LED Makeover

An almost complete switchover to LED lights has made it safer to fly into the Albuquerque International Sunport, which lies close to the Sandia Mountains. (Mike Provine)

Albuquerque International Sunport has completed a comprehensive changeover to LED lighting. Carroll McCormick reports.

An almost complete switchover to LED lights has made it safer to fly into the Albuquerque International Sunport, which lies close to the Sandia Mountains. (Mike Provine)

In a large-scale initiative rarely seen at an airport, the Albuquerque International Sunport in New Mexico replaced some 3,000 traditional airside fixtures with brighter and more energy-efficient light emitting diodes (LEDs).
About 87% of the airfield lighting was switched to LED lighting in a project between February and August 2011.  It also included replacing a handful of fixtures at the edge of the cargo ramp – work the airport had not originally planned.  “We replaced everything we could change,” says Jessica Dickman, Operations Manager at Albuquerque International Sunport.  “We are not aware of anyone else who has gone to LEDs on such a large scale.”
The city-owned airport has four runways:  the 13,793ft (4,204m) by 150ft (45.7m) Runway 08/26; the 10,000ft (3,048m) by 150ft (45.7m) Runway 17/35; the 10,000ft (3,048m) by 150ft (45.7m) Runway 03/21; and the 6,000ft (1,829m) by 150ft (45.7m) general aviation Runway 12/30.  The airport handled 5,796,373 passengers (156,505 movements) and its freight centre moved over 62,000 tons (56,245 tonnes) of cargo in 2010.
The LED installation was a pre-emptive investment to reduce maintenance costs, but of greater importance, the project was designed to slow skyrocketing electricity costs.  Ms Dickman explained: “Each year power is going up by 15-20%.  Electricity is a very costly part of operating an airport.  The lighting bill for the airfield is currently US$100,000 a year.”  She added: “Our electricians worked up rough numbers on the lighting they replace annually.  We are looking at savings of at least $250,000 over ten years on the fixture costs alone, not including labour or electricity costs.”
The total reduction in electrical consumption, including the additional savings obtained by switching to more energy-efficient constant current regulators (CCRs), will be about 65%, according to costing estimates prepared by Albuquerque-based consulting engineers and architects Molzen-Corbin & Associates, who designed the project and prepared all of the specifications.
There were few exceptions to the almost entire switchover to LED, according to Ms Dickman. “We did not do the northern part or southern part of Taxiway C.  We did not convert Runway 17/35 because we are carrying out an environmental assessment [there], with the expected outcome that we will close that runway.
“We also did not replace any runway edge lights with LED lighting.  For our purposes the FAA had not approved runway edge lights for use at certificated airports.”
She added: “A side note for us – a technology we are eager to learn about – is how soon the FAA will be ready to do LED PAPIs.”
Tim Winkelman is Regional Sales Manager for the Southwest, with Columbus, Ohio-based ADB Airfield Solutions which won the bid to supply all the LED fixtures and CCRs. He noted: “The Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] put out a bid a year ago for LED PAPIs.  Manufacturers prepared prototypes, which have been installed at an airport.  ADB has a prototype LED PAPI and is due to install more at a few airports by this time next year.”
Energy-efficient LED lights have helped combat 15-20% annual increases in electricity costs. (Mike Provine)

(Readers will note that LED solar APAPIs have been installed in the Aden-Adde International Airport, formerly the Mogadishu International Airport; Airports International profiled this installation in “Somalia Sunshine” in the March 2011 issue.)
According to Mr Winkelman, the FAA has approved elevated medium-intensity runway edge lights, and it is expected to approve elevated, high-intensity runway edge lights by this autumn.
Taking advantage of cost efficiencies in ADB’s bid, Albuquerque saved extra energy by replacing 40 old thyristor-style CCRs with 41 ferro-resonant CCRs.  Mr Winkelman explained how ferro-resonant CCRs save energy: “If a thyristor-style regulator is underloaded, say with a 5kW load on a 10kW regulator, and the efficiency adjustment taps are not adjusted properly, the power factor [think efficiency] as seen at the input of the CCR gets worse, especially in the lower intensity settings.  This results in almost the same energy consumption as a fully loaded CCR.  Ferro-resonant CCRs use a special type of electronic ‘tank’ circuit that automatically compensates for variations in load.  So there are no taps to remember to change and electrical efficiency is automatically optimised.”
Albuquerque-based electrical/instrumentation and control contractor McDade-Woodcock, Inc. won the bid to install the lights.  Two electricians and their two assistants from the airport helped McDade-Woodcock with the installation.  FAA funding covered about 85% of the US$3.2 million cost of the project.
The LEDs at Albuquerque included 180 touchdown zone (TDZ) lights; 185 runway centreline lights (the airport replaced the unidirectional centreline lights on 8/26 and 03/21 with bi-directional centreline lights); 2,000 elevated taxiway edge lights; 300 taxiway centreline lights; 300 LED signs; and a pair of elevated runway guard lights as a safety improvement.  Upgrades were also made to the Airfield Lighting Control Management System (ALCMS) that included new flash drive PCs.
Contractor and airport staff worked some seven months to replace around 3,000 old fixtures with LEDs, including nearly 700 touchdown zone lights, runway centreline lights and taxiway centreline lights. (Mike Provine)

Ms Dickman singled out the signs for special comment: “You can’t beat the improvement in the signs.  It is such a simple solution to improve the look of the airfield.  It can only bode well for pilots and vehicles out on the improved areas.”
The contractor installed new connections between the air traffic control tower and the ALCMS at the same time as the LED lights and CCRs were being replaced.  Ms Dickman said: “Our lighting used to be controlled wirelessly from the control tower.  We brought fibre optics from the north and south vaults to the tower.  This increases reliability and isolates sections of the airfield.”
The airport had previously installed LED lead-off lights – the lights that go from the runway to the taxiway, particularly on high-speed runway exits – on runways 08/26 and 03/21.  Ms Dickman explained: “Our electricians had done a cost comparison for the LEDs, which encouraged us to go for them.  We were comfortable with LEDs and we were excited to see the runway centreline lights and TDZ lights approved [by the FAA].  There is some concern with snow, but we don’t get enough for it to be detrimental to LEDs,” Ms Dickman explains.  Maintenance employees, tower controllers, pilots and others have noticed the impact of the new lights, she added.  “They are positively commenting on the brightness.  The light is very crisp and concise.  As we changed the lights we could see where the incandescent lights resumed: they looked very washed out.
“LEDs are definitely a much stronger and more pinpoint light.  There is a strong difference between the incandescent runway edge lights and the LED runway centreline lights.  The runway and centreline and TDZ lights are very white.  In Instrument Flight Rules [IFR] conditions we can see the runway without the tower having to turn up the lights.  They have a very vibrant and true colour.”
Ms Dickman also noted that the bright new lights enhance safety at the airport: “With the proximity to the Sandia Mountains, if the pilots can’t find the runway or airport within the sea of city lights, it can be pretty nerve racking.  When coming in on approach to Runway 21 or 26, you get pretty close to the mountains.  Pilots don’t really care for that.
The airport replaced traditional airside signs with 300 LED signs. (Mike Provine)

“When it comes to airports and lighting, LED is really a better light.  This technology is coming into its own.  It was a really good project for us, on the financial side for the airport and for the flying community.”
Energy Awareness
THE CITY of Albuquerque prides itself on being an environmentally conscious city.  “The current mayor, Richard Barry, asked to focus on environmental responsibility and safety.  It is the city’s philosophy to reduce energy costs,” says Jessica Dickman, Operations Manager at Albuquerque International Sunport.
The city-owned airport has already carried out projects to improve the energy efficiency of the terminal and there are more plans afoot to save power, says Ms Dickman.  “We completed the installation of photovoltaic panels in the parking structure this summer.  The expectation is that they will pay for themselves and generate electricity for the terminal.  We also installed tracking solar panels near the exits.  Reducing our carbon footprint is one of our goals at the airport.”