Airfield Lighting

Energy consumption and maintenance have become important factors in airside lighting selection. (Wayne County Airport Authority/Vito Palmisano)

Carroll McCormick reviews a mixture of traditional and cutting edge airside lighting projects.

Energy consumption and maintenance have become important factors in airside lighting selection. (Wayne County Airport Authority/Vito Palmisano)

The trend toward light emitting diode (LED) airfield lighting at North American airports is gathering strength as operational experience boosts confidence in the technology.  Less power consumption, extremely long life, lower maintenance and great visibility is a common refrain sung by those responsible for their selection.
Prince George
The Prince George Airport, in northern British Columbia, Canada, has logged over a year of run time with 232 LED runway centreline lights, manufactured by ADB Airfield Solutions.  ADB reports that at the time of their installation in July, 2009, they were the first LED runway centreline lights in the world.
In the planning stage of extending Runway 15/33 by 4,050ft (1,234m) to bring it to a new length of 11,434ft (3,490m) to attract tech stops on Trans-Pacific flights, the airport decided it would switch to LED lights.  Since they were not at that time approved for use, after the extension was completed in September 2008, the airport installed halogen lamps for the first ten months of operation.  The airport replaced them with LED lights in July 2009.
The savings in electricity and maintenance are huge.  Each halogen fixture contained two 96w lamps and it cost C$6 an hour in electricity to light the centreline.  The cost per hour for the 232 LED lights is 20% of that.  Maintenance costs have plummeted as well: the LED lamp life is estimated to be 60,000 hours, compared to 2,500 hours for the halogen lamps.  “The amount of maintenance drops drastically,” says Cuyler Green, the airport’s Director of Operations.
Addressing the question of their performance in winter, Green notes: “We get six and a half feet [2m] of snow a year.  Our experience is that because the LED lights run cool, if there are drifting conditions, snow just blows over the top of the lights.  Halogens melt snow and little bubbles of ice can form on the lights.”  He reports having had no problem with snow accumulation on the LED lights.
The only downside he reports is occasional water infiltration past the gaskets, which is taken care of during scheduled maintenance.
As for pilot feedback, Green says: “The only real comment we got that we did not expect is that pilots said the LED lights are so bright.  It is a much colder white light than halogen.  Our halogen edge lights are yellow by comparison.  The LED lights seem brighter, even though they put out the same candela.”
The airport also chose to install LED runway guard lights, and whenever it has the opportunity, it replaces halogen taxiway edge lights with LED lights.
Port Columbus International Airport
Port Columbus International Airport plans to take the use of LED lighting as far as it can when it constructs a new parallel runway and associated taxiways.  Why LED?  “A couple of years ago the airport authority created a sustainability manual, which covers everything from carpets to airfield lights.  LED lights have long life, use less energy and require less maintenance.  The airfield maintenance people have been easing into the LED world with some taxiway and ramp fixtures.  They like them quite a lot,” explains Tim Mentel, Project Manager, Columbus Regional Airport Authority.
Currently, the airport has two parallel runways: 10L/28R on the north side of the terminal and 10R/28L on the south side.  A new runway will be built 702ft (214m) south of, and parallel to 10R/28L.  It will adopt the name 10R/28L and the existing 10R/28L will become its north taxiway.  The new runway, which will be 3,500ft (1,067m) away from 10L/28R, will increase capacity during Instrument Flight Rule conditions.  As well, it will help make room for a new mid-field terminal, the construction of which the airport master plan calls for sometime in the next ten to 15 years.
Step 1 of the project is to build the 10,113ft (3,089m) new runway and south taxiway.  Construction will begin in March 2011 and the runway will be commissioned in early to mid-2013.  Once that task is out of the way, the airport will begin converting the old 10R/28L to a north taxiway.
Mentel describes where on the new runway and new south taxiway LED lighting will be installed: “We will use LED in-pavement lights, TDZ [touchdown zone] lights, centreline lights and high-speed turnoff lights and airfield signage.  We will also install LED runway edge lighting, if it is available in high-intensity by then.
“We are also looking at the possibility of compact fluorescent lighting for airfield signage.  It has some virtues, such as extended lamp life and a higher energy efficiency to meet the requirements of Federal Aviation Advisory Circular (FAA) Advisory Circular 150/5340-44H.  This reduces the load on the constant current regulators (CCR) and provides for greater spare capacity.  We only received the information on the compact fluorescent at the beginning of July 2010.  We are still looking into it.  This is one of the challenges we face with so much change under way in the industry.”
The LED lighting will require fewer CCRs in the vault, permit more systems to be put on the same circuit – in short, the airport will be able to power more lights with less equipment.  “We are continuing down the design path and are knee-deep in equipment selection right now,” Mentel says.  “Where we can, we will install LED lights.  And once we finish the south airfield work, we will look at a lighting rehabilitation as part of a pavement rehab on the north airfield.”
Rickenbacker International Airport
Rickenbacker International Airport, located about 13 miles (21km) south of Port Columbus International Airport, has been increasing its comfort level with adopting airfield LED lighting.  “We installed one elevated LED taxiway edge light as a test in 2007.  We have not had any [problems] with the light to date,” says Eric Hensley, Project Manager, Columbus Regional Airport Authority.
Rickenbacker’s 5R/23L has in-pavement LED centreline lighting.

In addition to the test light, the Authority implemented a study to investigate the existing airfield lighting systems and recommend improvements, including conversion to LED technology.  Thus satisfied, the airport is installing FAA approved L-850A Style 3 runway in-pavement centreline LED lighting on runway 5R/23L.  This is part of lighting rehabilitation work taking place at the same time as a three-phase renovation of the pavement, which began in May 2009.  The airport also replaced adjacent airfield guidance signs and ‘distance remaining’ signs with FAA approved LED lights.
The first two phases of work, which will be completed this October, involve refurbishing a total of 5,900ft (1,798m) of the runway ends.  During phase 3, scheduled to be carried out between May and August 2011, the airport will rehabilitate the runway’s 6,100ft (1,859m) centre section, replace the navaid cable control loop and install FAA approved L-850B runway in-pavement touchdown zone LED lighting on the Runway 5R end.  The new runway edge lights will be incandescent, since the FAA has not yet approved the use of LED lights in high intensity runway edge lighting.
“We are phasing ourselves into this new technology to realize the energy efficiency and also the longer life of the LED lights.  One major benefit is not having to replace as many fixtures, which also reduces labour costs and runway closure time.”  Hensley explains.  The airport has plans to gradually replace its taxiway edge lighting with LED lights.  “Hopefully,” Hensley adds, “In the next ten years we will have accomplished that, and also upgraded our electrical vault to take full advantage of the LED technology.”
Blue Grass Airport
The Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, has just tided up the work sites after replacing its 3,500ft (1,067m) crosswind runway 8/26 and its electrical vault; it was a 60-year-old World War Two bunker built when the airport, first called Blue Grass Field, was a military training facility.
The new runway is 500ft (152m) longer and, due to a shift in runway alignment, was designated 9/27.  Earthwork for 9/27 began in June 2009 and the airport completed the runway that September.  Mark Day, the airport’s Deputy Director of Engineering and Maintenance, describes the new lighting arrangement: “We decided to stick with quartz halogen lights, from Crouse Hinds, for familiarity for the maintenance staff and continuity of systems.  We are aware of the benefits of LED lights and probably will have a project to change over in the next few years.  It was tempting to go with LED lights, but we decided to stick with quartz halogen.”
Blue Grass built a new vault, and installed new equipment.

The runway approach makes use of visual aids, with PAPI (precision approach path indicator), by Cooper Crouse-Hinds and REIL (runway end identifier lights), by Flash Technology Smyrna and Strobe Approach Lighting Technology.
The vault replacement, and at Blue Grass this was no figure of speech, was a project whose time had certainly come.  “One reason for building a new vault was that there were safety issues with the old one.  We had to open a hatch and descend a ladder.  In order to retrieve any installed equipment we had to remove the ladder, which was not good from the perspective of being able to respond to any emergencies,” Day says.
Construction began on the 70 x 40ft (21.3m x 12.2m) structure last October and was completed in July 2010.  The airport replaced the old programmable logic control regulators with new Ferro resonant regulators, by Cooper Crouse-Hinds.  They are more energy efficient, have more sophisticated controls and make system troubleshooting easier.  “We have more sophisticated monitoring and measuring of our circuits now.  We have better monitoring of safety features and how control is handed back and forth between our maintenance staff and the control tower.  When maintenance staff are working on the system, injury is avoided because the tower cannot inadvertently turn on the power,” Day explains.
The airport also installed a Cooper Crouse-Hinds’ airfield lighting control and management system.  Day describes some of its virtues: “The tower has more sophisticated controls now.  For example, lighting and signage for reduced visibility, IFR and night-time conditions are turned off and on as systems of circuits rather than individual circuits.  We have talked with the tower about energy saving possibilities.”
Dallas-Fort Worth
Continuing its process of replacing incandescent lights on the airfield with LED lights wherever possible, the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (IATA: DFW) has just completed significant lighting rehabilitation work on its 9,000ft (2,743m) runway 13L/31R this August.  This initiative is part of a year-long construction project that included replacing numerous in-pavement lighting fixtures on the runway, the installation of a new electrical duct bank adjacent to the runway, and relocating several lighting circuits from one airfield electrical vault to another.  The airport replaced 178 incandescent runway centreline and 360 TDZ lights – on both runway ends – with LED lights by Siemens.
Dallas-Fort Worth replaced 178 incandescent runway centreline and 360 TDZ lights – on both runway ends – with LED lights.

“We are always looking at whether we are efficient with what we are replacing.  Is there safer, more cost-effective lighting?  In this case, LED lighting makes sense.  It is more conspicuous and especially noticeable in stepped lighting.  In low-visibility conditions we have received positive comments from flight crews,” says Paul Martinez, Vice President of Operations, DFW.
The greater visibility of the LED lights has impressed pilots.  December 24, 2009, for example, brought snowy, low-visibility night-time conditions.  This weather event provided an early test of the TDZ and runway centreline LED lights that the construction contractor had so far installed on Runway 31R. Snow accumulation on the runway was not the issue, rather, poor visibility was the challenge, Martinez explains.  “We received some comments from pilots on just how sharp the [LED lights] were in this snowy weather.  We were in a west diagonal flow for an extended period of time, which resulted in Runway 31R being the primary arrival runway for the airport.  It was very reassuring to receive the positive comments from pilots on how clear and well-lit Runway 31R was.”
The LED runway centreline lights save about 0.1kW per fixture.  Using US$6.60 per kW of demand, each fixture will save approximately $8.00 per year.  Savings for taxiway fixtures would be the same.
DFW’s previous work replacing traditional lighting with LED lighting includes 448 taxiway centreline lights on various taxiways as well as the installation of LED taxiway centreline lights for the new perimeter taxiway located south of runways 17R/17C, completed in December of 2008.
False River
The most common LED replacement scenario at airports is to replace traditional lights with LED lights, but powered with electricity from the grid.  The second scenario, still uncommon as a primary lighting solution, is to line taxiway and runway edges with self-standing solar LED lights, each with its own little solar panel and battery pack for night time power.
This May, however, Louisiana’s False River Regional Airport switched on a third variation on the LED theme: a traditional taxiway lighting system upgraded to LED, but powered entirely by one solar array.  ADB Airfield Solutions supplied the system.
This solar panel powers 164 LED taxiway fixtures at False River – a unique system.

Located about 30 miles (48km) northwest of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, False River, a general aviation (GA) airport with a 5,003ft (1,525m) runway, used a $400,000 State of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DoTD) grant to replace all 164 quartz taxiway edge fixtures with LED fixtures, solar panels, battery system and electrical components.
“The system contains our new 1kW Advanced Power Supply (APS), which reduces an airfield lighting circuit’s power consumption by 90%.  At False River we replaced the existing 15kW constant current regulators and fixtures and installed new LED fixtures.  Because of the huge power savings that APS and LED fixtures achieve, the doors were open to power the APS with solar technology,” explains Miguel Vasquez-Lavado, Product Manager, Marketing Group, ADB.  This is the only one of six existing APS systems powered by solar panels.
“Ours is the only GA airport in the world with this solar LED lighting system,” says Yvonne Chenevert, who has been airport manager for the past 18 years of her 34-year career at False River.  I have been testing LED light fixtures for the last four to five years.  The Louisiana DoTD has run a lot of projects at my airport.  I’m open to innovative approaches to these things.  I’m always on board with whatever Allan Taylor, the DoTD’s Airway Systems Manager, comes up with.”
Each of the quartz lights drew 45w, but the entire LED array only uses 800w, while delivering the same illumination as the old lights.  The solar panel provides the primary power and charges a set of batteries for night time operations.  If there is insufficient sun to charge the batteries, which would be a rare 14 days of non-stop poor weather in this part of the country, the system fall-back is the power grid.  A diesel generator stands ready in case of a power failure.
The airport, which handles 60,000 aircraft annually, expects to save between US$3,000 and $5,000 a year on electricity costs.  Also, Chenevert explains: “I’m told I won’t have to replace these bulbs for ten years.”
Looking for short-term return on investment is not how the DoTD, nor Chenevert judges the value of this project.  The state has a very long horizon, as many as 50 years, for getting value from its investments, according to Chenevert.  “The state likes to do these projects the right way the first time, with a view to an extremely long service life.  Louisiana puts in the best possible systems,” and, she adds: “The money I save on my field, I put toward improving maintenance of the facility.  It about the ability to take care of issues in a timely manner rather than dragging out the maintenance, such as letting paint fade.”
The new fixtures lie almost flush with their concrete pads.  Included in the funding is the moving of the concrete pads from their current, FAA-mandated distance of 10ft (3m) from the taxiway edge for elevated lights, to the new FAA approved distance of 2ft (0.61m) from the taxiway edge.  All that is required is trenching from the existing pads to the new ones, and running power through additional conduits.
Edmonton International Airport recently added 40 more Avlite AV70 portable solar LED light to its stock of 200 red AV70 lights, which it purchased in 2008.  They are used primarily for temporary marking of areas.  “The ease of installation, both with regards to application (no wiring) and the versatility of placement (the lights are being utilized in areas where in the past we may not have done so) enhances our safety standard on the airport,” reports Yuri Wuensch, Communications, EIA.
Vancouver International Airport purchased 30 AV70 units this May: ten blue for temporary taxiway use and 20 red for construction areas and taxiway closure barriers.  “We have been using solar blue and red lights at YVR for more than six years.  The most important advantages are safety, cost and convenience.  We can quickly install the solar lights if a construction project needs to remove or de-energize the permanent lights.  That way the project is not delayed and aircraft can still operate safely at night,” reports Christoph Rufenacht, Manager Airside Engineering Projects, Vancouver Airport Authority.
Solar-powered runway guard lights at Southampton; similar equipment was recently trialed at Pearson.

Camp Atterbury, home of the Indiana National Guard, installed the first ever permanent, solar powered, LED Abbreviated Precision Approach Path Indicator (APAPI) in the spring of 2009, and completed the underground cabling this summer.  Laser Guidance Inc, manufactured the APAPI and SNC EAGLE installed it.  A Solar Series LED PAPI will also be installed at each end of Runway 18/36 at Ft Campbell, Kentucky as a two-box system with radio frequency control, visible and infrared LED outputs and a frangible solar system.  Installation, energy and maintenance savings were the primary reasons for selecting this system, according to both Camp Atterbury and Ft Campbell.
Pearson International Airport completed a successful test and trial period of the Solar Series LED Beacons, from JSF Technologies, located in Saanichton, British Columbia.  It is considering the purchase of several LED solar-powered beacons this year.  They will replace traditional service road stop lights, which are wired into runway and taxiway circuits and must operate 24/7.  The solar-powered beacons will allow air traffic control to shut off runway and taxiway lights, when traffic permits.  (JSF also supplied the Solar Series runway guard lights to Southampton Airport in the United Kingdom, which installed them this May.  “Powered alternatives were too costly, which led JSF and its consultant Aviation Renewables Co to provide demonstration units for the winter, to confirm performance and year-round operation,” the airport reports.)