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Low-Maintenance LEDs Gain Ground in the Airport Lighting Industry

It is no surprise that 9/11 has significantly impacted funding availability for airport lighting projects. The release of funds has been slower since the terrorist attacks of 2001, and many projects in the pipeline have been canceled or delayed by money diverted to security requirements. Other projects were tabled by significant reductions in air travel.

The good news for electrical contractors is this: there is a growing interest in security-related equipment, as well as new or existing equipment with security capabilities.

Many electrical contractors install airport lighting, according to Tom Kelty, business development manager for Siemens Airfield Solutions (SAS) Inc. “Electrical contractors do complete installation, functional check and turn over the airfield to the customer. The only time it deviates from this is in advanced lighting control systems and docking systems.”

Contractors are installing more light-emitting diodes (LEDs) at airports than ever before. However, LED technology is not to the point where all lighting can be replaced with LEDs. The focus is on taxiway edge and centerline lights, signage and approach fixtures—some of which are in testing.

Kelty said runway lighting photometric requirements for intensity and color are still out of the range of an economical LED solution. However, LED technology offers potentially significant utility savings as well as reduction of maintenance requirements and the associated problem of having people and vehicles in the aircraft movement area.

A long-lasting L-861T LED taxiway edge light from (SAS) reduces power consumption and is easy to install on existing airfield circuits. The Electrical Testing Laboratory-certified 1W LED fixture is five times more energy efficient than traditional quartz-incandescent elevated fixtures, requiring only an 8.5VA fixture load on the highest step to power the robust fixture.

To further increase energy savings, a 10W isolation transformer can be used to match fixture load for optimal efficiency

According to Glenn Morrow, optical and mechanical engineering group leader at SAS, these fixtures will help airport staff reduce airfield maintenance because there are fewer parts and a longer time-between-failure rate. “The LED light sources we use are rated for 56,000 hours in high-intensity conditions. In theory, our LEDs should last more than 150,000 hours in actual operating conditions, which translates into an expected lifetime of more than 10 years.”

The fixture is designed to fit easily onto current airfield circuits by using the existing base plate, frangible coupling, isolation transformers, and constant current regulators. Maintenance workers simply remove an existing elevated taxiway fixture that has burned out and replace it with an LED version.

“Smart electronics” precisely control the current to the LED, matching the LED’s light output to existing quartz-incandescent fixtures at all brightness levels. This visual uniformity allows LED fixtures to be mixed with existing light fixtures on the airfield, saving the high cost of replacing all quartz-incandescent fixtures at one time.

The LED fixture comes standard with a blue acrylic optical column. No outer glass filters are required, eliminating filter replacement and color shifts that commonly occur when a conventional fixture is viewed at various angles or temperatures, as well as reducing inventory requirements.

Because the LED fixture mounts on an industry standard 1.5- or 2-inch frangible coupling, no special parts or extra labor are required for installation, providing significant inventory savings.

When the heater is not active, energy consumption is only 45 percent of a standard quartz-incandescent fixture. Manufactured to FAA and ICAO standards, the fixture is available with or without the heater option.

SAS’s new taxiway edge lights are available with an Arctic option that melts snow and ice the same as traditional fixtures, and is designed to output as much heat as traditional quartz-incandescent fixtures when needed, yet reduce power consumption during warmer months.

The fixture’s thermostatically controlled heater is only activated when conditions require additional heat to melt ice and snow, preventing buildup from obscuring the light output. The new ETL-certified LED fixture, which resembles a traditional taxiway fixture with a blue outer glass lens, uses no more than 25W when its heater is active—more than 15 percent below a standard quartz-incandescent fixture.

The blue outer lens and locking ring ensure high daytime visibility. Because the LED module is an integral component of the above-ground fixture, the electronics are not subject to water or de-icing agents and abuse present in L-867 base cans. Ruggedly mounted inside the module, the electronics are able to withstand damage if the fixture is knocked over.

Tony Mancini, national sales and marketing manager at Cooper Crouse-Hinds Airport Lighting Products, said LED fixtures reduce the potential for incursions and provide enhanced safety by emitting pure color, enabling them to be more easily seen in dense fog and other poor weather conditions.

According to Mancini, the movement to Style III takes advantage of the durability and performance for in-pavement taxiway fixtures with 0.25-inch profiles that reduce damage from snow-removal equipment and aircraft. “Lighting products use high-strength aluminum alloy housings that are rugged and lightweight. Aluminum also provides corrosion protection without environmentally harmful coatings such as Cadmium.”

Cooper Crouse-Hinds Airport Lighting Products (CHALP) foresees a shift to lighting devices controlled and monitored by electrical systems that need less energy and maintenance. Eventually airfields will need to reconfigure their power circuit infrastructures to the lower energy needs of LED lighting systems.

Mancini said CHALP’s L852 series fixtures allow field upgrades of existing incandescent fixtures in five minutes through a retrofit kit. The in-pavement Style III incandescent fixtures have interchangeable components to minimize inventories, thus enabling customers to benefit from LED technology while protecting their initial lighting fixture investments.

The VDOCKS Video Docking System from Siemens Airfield Solutions (SAS) provides automated guidance information during the docking process, contributing to increased airport capacity, airside security and the safety of aircraft and airport personnel. The system uses video sensors and an image-processing unit that locates and tracks aircraft approaching the stop position at the gate.

Aircraft guidance, provided via an LED visual display mounted in the gate area, is highly visible to both pilot and co-pilot and provides precise guidance and distance-to-go information. The system can manage multiple centerlines and is fully reconfigurable for changing centerlines.

The standard VDOCKS display can post eight characters per line and provides up to a 120-degree viewable display, requiring fewer systems to manage multiple centerlines at one gate. The display provides simultaneous numerical and graphical indicator distance-to-go information. Display options include double-high text, a 64-character display and a three-color LED display.

The automated system docks planes safely and more efficiently by integrating continuous video surveillance of the ramps and aprons with various airport systems to ensure smooth processes.

Because the VDOCKS system is video-based, logging of docking events includes video images, which are beneficial for security and incident investigations. The video can be made available to authorized users on a local intranet via a user-friendly Web cam if optional image services are installed.

The system’s easy-to-install, all-in-one enclosure and use of off-the-shelf equipment drastically reduces the overall cost of ownership. No motors or other moving parts and a reduction of total system components also make the system significantly more reliable than laser-based technology. In addition, the VDOCKS system architecture eliminates the cost of two additional computer systems per gate compared to its video-base competitors. EC

WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at


About the Author

Pat Woods

Freelance Writer
Pat Woods writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at" .

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