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Do pilots prefer night or day?

Is flying during the day safer than flying at night?

Is there any correlation between night or day flight time and rate of accidents? To me it seems that there should not be a difference. If an airplane needs to execute an emergency landing, it has to do it at an airport which is illuminated at night. However, what if the pilot needs some ground visuals to navigate, for example, because the instrument are not working similar to the Air France Flight 447. Edit I only mean commercial airline flights done by planes such as airbus a320/321/330 or Boeing 737-800.

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asked Jun 14, 2016 at 13:45
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$begingroup$ AF447 occurred in IMC. Probably would have happened in the daytime too $endgroup$
Jun 14, 2016 at 23:10

$begingroup$ Been doing a layman’s research on air India flight 855 that crashed near Bombay (Mumbai now) in new year 1978. It went down into the Arabian sea just 3 Km away after take off. The night factor (about 8.45 pm) may have contributed to the cause inconclusively pointed at pilot disorientation /instrument failure. They didn’t know they were banking more and more to the left, the report says. (not the exact words). It was a Boeing 747 (not sure) bom — dubai. $endgroup$

Jan 17, 2018 at 9:11

$begingroup$ FWIW, it is possible to land at an unlighted airport. Not that I’d recommend it, you understand, but it’s way preferrable to crashing in a randomly-selected bit of terrain. $endgroup$

Mar 19, 2020 at 5:05

4 Answers 4

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First, I should reiterate that commercial flights at any time of day are extremely safe. Saying flights at night are more dangerous is like saying going to buy groceries at night is more dangerous. It may be true, but it shouldn’t be something a traveler worries about.

It seems from the available data that accidents are at least more dangerous at night, even though I can’t tell if accidents are more likely. Certain kinds of accidents, like weather-related accidents or disorientation, are also more common at night than during the day.

A great source for this is an incident database that you can download from the NTSB database of aviation incidents (there’s a link on the page for downloadable datasets). Opening the downloadable dataset in Access lets you find statistics for whatever criteria you want. I filtered for records with aircraft operating commercially (not general aviation or commuter) with light conditions (like day vs. night) available.

In this dataset, 1562 incidents occurred during daylight, dawn, or dusk, and 635 occurred at night, or about 29% of all incidents (Incidents include procedural violations and near-misses as well as accidents that cause damage or injury). To figure out how likely an accident is at night versus the day, we would need to get data on traffic volume that matches the dataset I’m using. Unfortunately, I don’t have that information, but we can look at other statistics to see whether these night incidents are more serious.

Of those incidents, 5.6% of incidents during the day had at least 1 fatality and 8.9% of night incidents had at least 1 fatality. Also, only 1.6% of incidents during the day had at least ten fatalities compared to 2.5% at night. This confirms that night incidents are slightly more likely to be fatal. It’s also worth noting that among accidents reported as «dark night,» 9.7% were fatal, showing only a slight increase from other night conditions. The percentage of total fatalities that happened at night is a bad statistic because a large amount of those fatalities come from a few large crashes.

Pie chart of incident statistics listed above

In a closely related statistic, 49% of the incidents during the day were not classified as «accidents,» compared to 41% at night. This means the margin between an incident and a full-scale accident is narrower at night.

Some kinds of incidents are also far more common at night than during the day. 27.4% of incidents were marked as involving a weather condition at day versus 38.7% at night (which is surprising considering that thunderstorms and turbulence are less common at night). Other incident codes that represent a larger share of the incidents at night include «became lost or disoriented,» «minimum descent altitude,» «crew/group coordination,» «airport facilities,» «object,» and, unsurprisingly, «light condition.» Surprisingly, the following were not unusually common codes for night incidents: «terrain,» «anti-ice,» and «taxiway lighting» (wait what?). Some of these codes (like for taxiway lighting related incidents) are so rare that the statistics for them are unreliable.

I looked at the set of flights recorded by the NTSB since 1982 with light condition recorded and FAR part listed as 121, 125, 129, or «NUSC» (I make no guarantees that this dataset is an unbiased representation of all incidents since many crashes are excluded from these criteria). Dawn and dusk were considered during the day when counting. I’m counting by plane technically, not by incident.

Everything You Need to Know About Flying at Night

Sarina Houston was the aviation expert for The Balance Careers. She is a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor.

Updated on 11/20/19

Nighttime is one of the best times to fly. The winds die down, and the thermal turbulence dissipates, leaving a sky full of stars and a smooth ride. Night flying can be an absolute pleasure, but for many people, especially those that don’t do it often, it can also be a source of anxiety. And for others, revisiting the basics of night flying should be something that’s done every so often. Sometimes even frequent flyers forget some of the nuances surrounding night flying. Here are a few tips to help your next night flight go smoothly.

Plan Ahead

Night Flying

We can’t stress the planning aspect of flying enough. It’s important for any flight, but at night there are a few additional things to consider, like remembering to bring flashlights, and two are better than one, in case you drop the first one, and it rolls to the back of the aircraft (spoken from experience). Extra batteries are good, too, but when your batteries go dead mid-flight, it’s easier just to pick up a new, operational flashlight than it is to fumble around with replacing batteries.

Plan Differently

Airline Pilot

There are so many things to consider when you’re planning a night flight. At night, for example, you should plan your VFR route differently. Or consider flying IFR if you’re qualified. And plan for possible emergency situations, since an off-field landing will go much differently at night than it will during the day.

Remember the Regulations

Night Flight

Many pilots get so busy flying that they forget about the regulations. There are certain rules to flying at night, like the 45-minute fuel reserve, and the requirement to be current to carry passengers. Here’s a breakdown of some of the more important regulations pertaining to night flight.

Verify Operating Hours and Availability

Airport control tower and a commuter plane preparing to land on the runway.

Fuel availability, air traffic control closures, FBO hours, runway lights, approach procedures, and many other operational aspects of the flight environment change at night. Make sure you verify NOTAMS and procedures before your flight.

Know Your Lights

Runway Lights

Aircraft lights, airport lights, runway lights, and approach lights are just a few of the lighting systems you should be familiar with before your night flight. It may seem obvious to some, but will you remember when you have to have your position lights on in the airplane? And do you remember what the airport beacon looks like for a seaplane base versus a military base versus a civilian land airport? What about your light gun signals in case of a communications failure?

Illusions Are Real

City Night Bokeh

Nighttime illusions are common. The trouble with illusions is that you may not notice that you’ve fallen victim to one until it’s too late. Be wary of nighttime illusions like the black hole effect, autokinesis, false horizons, and even the constant flickering of the strobe lights that can cause disorientation in pilots.

Trust Your Instruments


If you have an instrument rating, trusting your instruments will be easier for you than for others.​ If you don’t have an instrument rating, you’ll have to work harder to put your trust in your instruments. Basic instrument flight training is required for your private pilot certificate, but if you earned a private pilot certificate years ago, it’s possible that you have had little or no instrument training since then. At night, it’s important to rely more on your instruments than your body’s signals.

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