ADB celebrates 65 years in the spotlight

posted on 26th June 2018

One of the world’s leading airfield lighting specialists is marking a big anniversary this year  

ADB is one of the world’s leading suppliers of airfield lighting equipment and this year it is celebrating the 65th anniversary of its activities in this sector. Belgian founder Adrien de Backer created his business in 1920. This initially focused on the manufacture of theatre lighting and their control panels, and then in 1947 the company diversified into the area of airport lighting.

The catalyst was the decision that year of Sabena – Belgium’s flag-carrier – to launch night flights, and the nation’s airport at Melsbroek approached the company to install the visual guidance system.

In the 65 years since then, notes the president and CEO of ADB Airfield Solutions, Christian Onselaere, the company has become a truly global player in the field of airfield lighting.

With more than 2,000 installations worldwide, there is hardly a country that doesn’t use its equipment, he pointed out. Its product portfolio includes lights, regulators, control systems and other associated equipment, plus after-sales service that can combine to form a turnkey solution, Onselaere says.

Headquartered in Zaventem, near Brussels, ADB Airfield Solutions now employs approximately 180 staff there and more than 200 in its many other offices around the world. Its presence extends to Brazil, Canada, China, Malaysia, South Africa, Dubai, numerous other European countries as well as a major facility in Ohio, in the US.

All those offices will take part in celebrating the anniversary. A week in late November will see ADB hold a number of events, some wining and dining as well as some more semi-formal occasions, with staff and customers to celebrate what has gone before and to promote what it still yet to come. A small exhibition at the firm’s Belgian headquarters will also demonstrate to staff and visitors ADB’s achievements.

Much has changed in those 65 years, Onselaere informs, that will be reflected at the exhibition. The post-war period saw ADB develop its airfield lighting offerings and its geographical coverage; in 1953, it installed its first equipment, for example, in Africa – at what is now Kisangani International airport, in the Democratic Republic of Congo – and a Middle East presence soon followed.

In 1987 came another major change when German electronics specialist Siemens acquired ADB. Coming under the wing of such a giant certainly had its advantages, Onselaere believes, helping to modernise the company and allowing ADB to benefit from Siemens’ technological expertise. But it also complicated the business environment, and when ADB moved under the wing of a financial investor in 2009 it once again could work with a sharper focus, he considers.

But while the company has changed radically in its form and size over the years, its principles have remained constant. ADB has built its success, and will continue to do so, he says, on two fundamentals – innovation and customer service.

The first of those is apparent in the role it has played in the development of new technology, such as second-generation lighting. Sufficiently powerful to be used on the centreline and edges of airport runways, as well as the taxiways that require less powerful illumination, LED lighting has been applied in various ways not possible with the old halogen technology.

These latest lights – called AD Lights – are more resistant to water ingress, Onselaere continued, as well as require significantly less power to operate, need less spare parts management and have a far longer lifespan. The technology has been sold to customers such as Manchester Airport Group (MAG), which first replaced halogen lighting with AD Lights in 2011 and chose ADB as its key supplier in the project.

The pilot installation has gone very well, he observed. Fully certified by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, London Gatwick has also turned to the second-generation LED lighting, while he is hopeful that London Heathrow will follow in due course.  “We’re confident it will continue to be a really big hit,” Onselaere enthuses.

ADB is now researching the extension of the second-generation lighting to cover other functions on the airfield (including approach lighting), plus looking at new power systems with increased energy efficiency and related technologies.

The second plank on which ADB has built its success is customer service and it is certainly one of the CEO’s priorities that the company remains very close to its customers. As well as offering them a specialised system to meet their requirements, client can also benefit from a wide-ranging after-sales coverage that promises any problems will be solved whenever humanly possible.

In summary, “happy customers, happy employees and happy shareholders – a healthy balance” is the results of ADB’s progress over the past six and a half decades – and will continue into the future, Onselaere promises.