Airfield ground lighting (AGL) is vitally important to safe operations at an airport facility. Across the airfield, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of lights of varying colours and sizes are positioned, helping pilots, ground staff and air traffic control to operate safely and effectively day or night
As pilots worldwide have to be very familiar with lighting configuration, a great deal of time and effort has been devoted to developing standards and regulations for airfields, in order to make it easier and safer for all involved. Maintenance personnel, contractors and engineers also need to be fully conversant with the regulations in order to maintain compliance. Current standards are set out by various organisations. Among them are the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Civil Aviation Authorities, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NATO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
There follows a series of questions which were put to two industry professionals working within this field, designed to delve a little deeper into the challenges faced by airports, technological advances, and how to get the best from your installation.
What are the major challenges faced by airports with regard to AGL?
Alain Mortier, ADB: “Chosen equipment should always be compliant with the local and international requirements such as National CAA requirements, FAA and ICAO Annex 14. Certificates of Conformity for these products should be available from the AGL suppliers and always requested. In addition you need to ensure that high quality installation and use of high quality installation material appear to be satisfactory on ‘sign off.’ This is essential for good performance and reliable operation.”
Jesper Svensson, Safegate: “In the short term the major challenge is to increase the uptime, which results in reduced maintenance costs. In the medium term, C02 emissions will become a critical question for most airports, meaning they need to find a way to reduce power consumption which in today’s Airfield Lighting mainly comes from cable losses. Long term, the challenge is to transfer the AFL into a traffic guidance system (A-SMGCS).”
Could new advances in technology reduce maintenance costs?
AM: “Besides new technologies, regular maintenance of AGL is essential to maintain a compliant AGL system and therefore an operational Runway and Taxiway system. The use of properly trained competent personnel is the only way to ensure the maintenance is being correctly applied.
“With new technologies and more local processor capacity taking over control and monitoring functions in the field, maintenance issues become more transparent. Status messages and immediate localisation of warnings and errors ease the maintenance work and allow a better planning of a preventive maintenance schedule. Due to a higher automation level, unplanned interruptions of airfield operation occur less frequently.
“New technologies allow reduction in the requirement for maintenance which results in increased availability of taxiways further improving operational capacity.”
JS: “Yes, absolutely. Real life figures show savings above 75%.”
What should an airport consider when choosing to upgrade AGL systems?
AM: “The airport has to first define its priorities in operation, financial targets, ecological ambitions and safety improvements. Is the airport AGL system compliant to ICAO or FAA standards? Does the lowest purchasing price count or the lowest cost of ownership over 10-15 years average lifetime of AGL equipment? Do eco-political goals play a major role or are traveller (customer) friendly operation and safety issues dominant? Those goals may on the first glance potentially contradict, but a balanced concept allows reaching multiple targets.
“New technology can improve the lifetime, operation, safety, efficiency, environmental effects and costs of an AGL system. AGL fixtures utilising LED technology will consume less power, not only in power consumption for light but also in the maintenance cycle, as there is a considerable reduction in the need to send technicians in vehicles to replace faulty lights. This, of course, also helps in the reduction of CO2 emissions.”
JS: “The single one most important thing to consider is to future proof the investment. More or less all industry experts are in agreement that traffic will increase on a Global basis of approximately 5%. Most airports will not be able to grow in size and will have to meet the growing traffic by doing more within their existing infrastructure. It is widely accepted that the biggest contribution to achieve this is by the implementation of A-SMGCS, which means ‘follow the green’ (i.e. AFL). This means that any AFL system invested in today will at all major airports and all airports Cat II or higher will be used as a navigation tool during its life time.
“Using the AFL system as a navigation tool puts a lot of new demands on the system such as individual monitoring, individual control, and each light will belong to more than one segment etc.
“So for all major airports and airports with CAT II or higher it is imperative to invest in a system that is upgradable to individual monitoring and control. The fairly immature LED market does contain a significant element of propriety technology, meaning investing in a certain technology can create a monopolistic situation. Unfortunately such monopolies have previously been proven to be both costly and provide poor service. So in short select a long term partner with care and with the necessary capabilities to help your airport reach to the next level. Alternatively, require your partner to confirm they work with open interfaces.”
Is LED technology the ‘be all and end all’ for AGL, or do you see the technology advancing further?
AM: “LED technology happens to conquer more and more lighting applications, which have been the traditional field for Tungsten halogen light sources and will open many possibilities in other fields like power supply and remote control functionalities.
“Benefits of modern AGL can better be utilised in combination with modern Airfield Lighting Control and Monitoring System (ALCMS). This system enables Air Traffic Control to determine which lights should be switched on to suit the weather conditions and also to guide Aircraft safely along taxiways to their parking position. It furthermore monitors the status of each activated light fixture as per ICAO Annex 14 for safety zones in CAT conditions (reduced visibility).
“Translating the intention of the Air Traffic Control to guide aircraft to its destination is done with AGL in combination with individual lamp control and monitoring ILCMS. For more complex ground traffic management applications, a Surface Manager SMAN with interface to ALCMS offers to ATC an intention based routing and individual visual guidance, resulting in safer ground traffic through improved situational awareness of pilots and reduced work load of controllers.”
JS: “We are confident to say that the technology will advance further, in the short term mainly by reducing power losses from the primary circuit and with built in routing and guidance capability.”
What advice can you offer on getting the best from you AGL systems?
AM: “It is recommended to rely on an industry partner that has long term experience in the AGL business. It is also a significant advantage if this company can provide technical services on short notice through regional or even local presence of its sales and service entity. A service contract can include 24 hr cover, remote access support, training courses and periodic service visits.”
JS: “Consider power losses from the primary circuit and upgrade to A-SMCGS today so you don’t have to redo the investment shortly again.”
So there you have it, some very useful advice to take into consideration when the time comes to purchase new AGL equipment at your airport. As you will have gleaned, it is not a decision to be entered into lightly as there are myriad aspects to consider before selecting the right system and supplier for you. Weigh up your options carefully, take your time, and think carefully before you ‘switch on the lights’.