Showing the Way

posted on 6th April 2018

Ensuring that all the paved areas that go to make up the modern airport are well lit and well marked is no small task. Airport operators take different approaches to maintenance and acquisition strategies in regard to airfield ground lighting (AGL) and apron marking, but there is plenty of technology out there to help them

Munich International Airport has two runways, both 4,000m long and 60m wide. All four approaches are category 3B certified and, to ensure safe and efficient air traffic flows, the gateway maintains a total of approximately 24,000 airfield lights – giving pilots the visibility they need under all weather conditions.

The majority of the airfield lights are still of the halogen variety, but all new installations being made by airport operator Flughafen München GmbH (FMG) are of the more modern LED type, with individual lamp control capability. With regard to a preferred supplier: “There are only a handful of relevant manufacturers active in this market and each of them has to fulfil the requirements of ICAO/EASA (International Civil Aviation Organization/European Aviation Safety Agency). In the end, it’s a decision based on the best offer, the need for integration into pre-existing systems and the after-sales support provided,” explains Christian Loeffelmann, head of infrastructure outdoor systems for FMG.

At Toronto Pearson International, one of North America’s biggest airports, over 20,000 lights are controlled and monitored through the Greater Toronto Airport Authority’s Airfield Lighting Control System (ALCS). This customised system incorporates what Humberto Melo, manager, airside electrical for GTAA, describes as “preventative capabilities” for monitoring all the airfield feeders/circuits. The system is also fully capable of trending data through reports and sending out notifications which allow for real-time monitoring of all systems.

GTAA currently uses halogen lights on all its runways and taxiways (mostly manufactured either by ADB or Crouse-Hinds) but, like FMG, it is starting to make use of other options. Melo and his team at Toronto are starting to test some different LED lights. They have already converted all the apron edge lights to LED and are in the process of converting airfield signs to the newer technology.


The maintenance of airfield lighting systems has become more and more important due both to the increasing number of air traffic movements being handled and the decreasing availability of ready time slots for maintenance to be carried out. For many busy gateways like Toronto and Munich, most of the work can only be carried out during the night. Melo, for instance, explains: “Finding windows of opportunity to carry out our preventative maintenance programme on some of our frequently used runways and taxiways can be a challenge. Toronto Pearson is growing rapidly and it’s important that maintenance is carried out at a time that minimises operational impact.”

As well as normal everyday wear and tear, caused in the main by sometimes harsh environmental conditions, the prisms of airfield lights can be obscured by the rubber particles of aircraft tyres, while damage caused by snow removal operations during the winter also mean there are likely to be shorter inspection intervals in that season for any airport operator.

There are many ways of monitoring AGL performance and thereby identifying maintenance requirements. Toronto makes use of a system called Airport Maintenance Management System (AMMS), but GTAA is currently in the process of retiring that and replacing it with IBM’s Maximo offering. Typically: “We have many years of data showing a three-year life cycle replacement expectancy for airfield lights,” Melo informs.

The frequency of routine inspections of AGL has also generally increased over time – in part due to changing requirements laid out by various civil aviation authorities and agencies (EASA, for example) in regard to airfield lighting and photometric standards. Melo points to new standards that have been implemented at Toronto this year; new procedures include increased frequency of photometric testing to ensure that the required light and colour output of all surface lights are as mandated at all times.

Increased routine maintenance on all relevant fixtures to ensure proper torquing of in-pavement lighting bolts is also an ongoing focus, he adds.


UK-based software company Keysoft Solutions has developed new software that allows airside planners and their engineers to draw complex runway, taxiway and apron markings in AutoCAD “more quickly and efficiently than ever before”. As a result, Keysoft says, airport operators can plan the markings required for their runways and taxiways with ease, accuracy and speed.

The AeroSTRIPE CAD application offers a range of features designed to make users’ lives very much easier. The software includes a comprehensive library of line types, text and symbols, pre-drawn to the correct size and shapes for various locations around the world that will adhere to both national and any relevant international industry-based regulations and standards, such as those of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as well as the Airports Council International Apron Markings and Signs Handbook.

The aim is to remove the need for those designing airside markings to have to do it manually by means of standard AutoCAD tools. AeroSTRIPE allows, for example, for the drawing of an entire runway with just a single line.

According to Keysoft director Will Baron: “While AeroSTRIPE does make it quicker and easier to produce accurate, compliant plans, this is just one part of its potential. AeroSTRIPE also has a role to play in designing safer airsides. In addition to ensuring that airside markings conform to industry regulations, the software also enables users to quickly generate 3D eyeline views. Designers can use this feature to ensure that markings will be clearly seen and understood.”

It is still early in the new product’s marketing process, but – says Baron – AeroSTRIPE has already been through a number of developmental iterations, thanks in part to extensive consultations with potential customers. Amongst those is Ireland’s rapidly expanding Dublin International Airport, he explains.

Also important has been collaboration with Transoft Solutions, another designer of CAD software for transportation engineers. Headquartered in Canada, it acquired Swedish aviation software developer Simtra AeroTech in early 2014. Transoft had concentrated on airside swept path analysis and had worked successfully with Keysoft before. Now, Keysoft continues to work with the combined entity to promote and develop products such as AeroSTRIPE for the benefit of the airside marking segment.

Regular updates of AeroSTRIPE will be supplied as necessitated by changing national and international standards, as well as by any changes in CAD software, Baron informs.


Abacus Lighting is among the major players in the airport lighting market, specialising in exterior lighting solutions for areas from the apron to airport car parks. Its expertise has been built on its work with gateways right around the world, both civilian and military, from huge hubs such as London Heathrow International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport to smaller, more remote gateways such as Beef Island in the British Virgin Islands, Marshall Airport in Cambridge and – most recently – Jersey Airport.

“Our column and high mast solutions continue to stand strong 20 years on (from their launch), and new installations ensure that maintenance and operation requirements are met,” says marketing executive Holly Bolus. Abacus’ lighting offering has also grown to include more LED solutions for both roads and car parks around airport sites, along with large area floodlights.

At Jersey Airport, Abacus put together a modern LED lighting design using the pre-existing HL250 masts. Thanks to what Bolus describes as the proven durability and reliability of these Abacus Raise and Lower masts, inspections confirmed that replacement masts were not necessary and that the existing masts could continue to be used safely with new floodlighting installed.

With masts already in place, the light fittings needed to meet suitable lighting levels and have the correct spread of light across the area between mast points. In order to achieve this, over 30 high-power AAA-LUX area floodlights from the Abacus AL-Series were used in a combination of 90-degree and 180-degree beam distributions, allowing the area to be fully lit without any loss of light. These AL-Series fittings had the same footprint and weight of the previously used Challengers, so the use of an LED floodlight that could be retrofitted to the existing infrastructure kept costs down.

The use of LED lighting reduces energy consumption, while the innovative AAA-LUX control management system also enables further energy savings, Bolus notes. AAA-LUX controls all the lighting in the installation and can be remotely monitored from a central location via computer; it also runs through push button boxes, sensors and even smart devices for full control.

The AAA-LUX control system is capable of dimming and switching the lighting, which – for the needs of Jersey Airport – is ideal, she points out. Maximum dimming options were available to the airport, with full zonal dimming of the apron lighting down 50% after the last flight of the day, around 10pm until early morning, giving staff full control without compromising the safety of staff on the apron.

The system can be controlled from a touch screen within the control tower or via control boxes located at the bottom of the masts, allowing control and plans to integrate into the building management and the ability to control from the apron, should the lights need to be switched into emergency mode. Emergency mode brings all lights up to 100% when necessary, resulting in quick response times for the apron staff in an area where responsiveness is critical.

Another challenge was posed by the coastal environment of the airport. Jersey required a robust fitting to cope with the salt in the sea air, and the die cast aluminium polyester powder-coated body with integrated heat sink and IP65 seals ensured Jersey Airport had a fitting that would meet the energy savings and dimming requirements but require little maintenance over a full potential lifespan.

The Jersey installation represented the first airport project undertaken by Abacus to feature the AAA-LUX AL-Series LED floodlights. Currently the AAA-LUX is only available as three-phase, but developments are underway to produce a single-phase option.

Abacus is also looking to increase the control capability of all its lighting systems in a similar manner to the AAA-LUX, Bolus confirms.


Most of the installed airfield lighting systems at airports worldwide are still not what could be described as ‘state of the art’ but an airport’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide output can be effectively reduced by using new AGL technology.

Loeffelmann also notes that old FLYCY AGL primary cables need to be replaced due to their steadily decreasing isolation values after 20 or so years of operation.

One important thing to bear in mind in regard to AGL replacement is to make it as safe as possible for airport maintenance staff, Loeffelmann argues. AGL series circuit systems are not comparable to normal electrical installations in buildings, because of the lack of safety back-up equipment like residual current circuit breakers. But this depends on the way in which AGL has traditionally been installed and operated. To minimise the risk for maintenance staff it is important to keep the AGL on an SELV (Safety Extra Low Voltage) level when replacing lamps, he points out.

The high cost of replacing existing AGL systems and the implementation of any new AGL system while keeping the airfield running is a major challenge. The answer is to introduce new AGL in a step-by-step procedure. Whether or not the replacement of an existing AGL system is financially viable depends not only on the age of the system, but at least as much on the lamps’ daily operating hours and their usage intensity level.

“LED has, of course, been an important step forward in AGL technology, but there are more aspects which need to be considered” when selecting an AGL system, Loeffelmann argues. A combination of LED, single-lamp control and reduced current outputs are the goal for the near future, he suggests.

Toronto’s Melo agrees that LED lighting at airports has a big future, although he also points to the “engineering improvement needed for the use of LEDs in inclement weather”.

Another big challenge for any new AGL system will relate to the integration of entirely new operational concepts such as the Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System (A-SMGCS). Programmes such as ‘Follow the Greens’, tested at Frankfurt and involving only the lights on certain routes being switched on to guide a taxiing pilot, represent “just the beginning of a new philosophy in AGL”, Loeffelmann suggests.


When it comes to AGL, Germany-headquartered airport LED lighting supplier HELLA believes that the main challenges facing airports in recent times have been to manage an increasing demand for air traffic while optimising current installations and reducing downtime – and while also minimising environmental impact through making energy savings and reducing CO2 emissions. The answer, the company suggests, has been the progressive introduction of LED technology. On this, HELLA has led the way, it says, pointing out that it now has the largest installed base of LED runway lights around the world.

Indeed, says HELLA’s director airport lighting, Guy Spillebeen, the company has been a pioneer in aviation LED technology, coming from a leading position as such in the automotive industry. Its portfolio includes inset and elevated lights for runways, taxiways and aprons, constant current regulators (CCRs), flashing systems, precision path approach indicators (PAPIs) and LED signs.

HELLA’s recent offerings into the AGL market have included inset approach lights and inset and elevated runway edge lights, an elevated Sequential Flash Light (SFL) approach LED system and LED retrofit kits for airfield signs.

Even more recently, HELLA has partnered with Impleo Solutions of the Netherlands to design innovative LED lights with smart connectivity. The initial aim is to provide what the former describes as “highly reliable and very different solutions to well identified and difficult applications that necessitate secure and highly reliable communication”.

Contactless Energy and Data Distribution (CEDD) technology offers an inductive system that enables quick and simple installation and maintenance. According to Spillebeen: “The CEDD® technology is extremely innovative, unique and revolutionary in the way the LEDs are powered and managed.” CEDD® is the result of collaboration between Impleo Solutions, which offers expertise in inductive powering and data communication, and HELLA, which brings its LED lighting and sensor technology in order to – he says – “build a modern and powerful solution to operate the airfield ground lighting in a safer, cheaper, greener and intelligent way”.

“It offers a low-voltage circuit that is easy and fast to install and at a much lower cost compared to the existing circuits with CCRs. The communication speed (both ways) offered by the CEDD® system is the fastest and the most reliable in the market today and it also provides the capability to use sensors in the light fixture to measure the behaviour of the light – proactively providing information to maintenance teams to facilitate the monitoring and asset management of the equipment. With, for example, data on temperatures, surrounding vibrations, light intensity, the cleanness of the prisms, this data will definitely provide a quantum leap in the maintenance of AGL and reduce the total cost of ownership for airports.”

HELLA is planning further live CEDD® testing with some big European airports on dedicated circuits. The expectation is that in a few years there will be entire airfields running on these low-voltage circuits, generating significant energy savings and improving safety conditions for maintenance staff. Moreover, Spillebeen remarks, intelligent CEDD® systems also allow for improved safety of aircraft operations on the airfield, with proactive immediate switching of stop bars as required, for example, or as part of an integrated ‘Follow the Green Concept’ that has been discussed for many years and that has been tested at Frankfurt Airport.

LEDs are the future of airfield lighting – given their quality and improved lifetime costs over halogen predecessors – of that he has no doubt. But, Spillebeen posits, with LEDs now achieving the desired high intensity and reliability that allows them to be used as standard on runways in the same way that they are now fitted on so many airport taxiways, it is now – more than ever – time to adapt the power support systems. “The classical high voltage 6.6 amp circuits are not the answer anymore. New and more economical ways are needed,” he argues. “The CEDD® solution is by far the most innovative and efficient one coming into the marketplace right now.”


Multihog, best known for its multi-purpose vehicles used for – amongst other applications – airport snow clearance work, has also developed a specialist runway light cleaning unit. The equipment is mounted on a Multihog MX vehicle and sprays a mixture of soda, water and air on the light before then rinsing it with water.

Each light is cleaned in just one pass and everything is controlled from the vehicle cabin. The operator/cleaner stays warm and dry, therefore, whatever the weather. Other cleaning methods often use high-pressure washing, which can damage the light.

The equipment is already in use at a UK airport, Multihog confirms.


UK-based Midstream Lighting received the winner’s medal in the interRAMP category at the recent inter airport exhibition held in Munich in October for its Titan LED Apron Projector, a projector designed specifically for illuminating an airport apron.

Used in place of high mast lighting, it can increase light levels while still reducing the power used. The system is also said to require little or no maintenance for up to a decade. Titan is in use at Scotland’s Glasgow Airport.