Airside Winter 2019

Fast-moving technology throws light on AGL

The technology used by the latest airfield ground lighting (AGL) systems is changing quickly, in terms of both individual lights and airport surface movement monitoring and control systems

ADB SAFEGATE offers a wide range of integrated solutions that are designed to increase efficiency, improve safety, boost environmental sustainability and reduce operational costs for airports, airlines and air navigation service providers. In particular, it is one of the biggest suppliers of airfield lighting systems.

Reflecting the fast pace of change in this segment of the airport ramp business, Christian Onselaere, CEO of ADB SAFEGATE explains that the company has made substantial changes to its portfolio in recent years.

Those changes to which Onselaere refers started in 2016, when ADB and SAFEGATE merged to become ADB SAFEGATE, which brought under one roof a wider portfolio of brands. “We started back then with a wide review to understand what products would become our main products and what was needed to have them evolve to the next generation,” Onselaere recalls.

The latest development in this process was the recent creation of the company’s ‘RELIANCE’ series of products, which encompasses AGL products, AGL power solutions and ADB SAFEGATE’s Individual Light Control and Monitoring System (ILCMS) offering that adds to its Airfield Lighting Control and Management System (ALCMS) solution.

ADB SAFEGATE showcased its RELIANCE portfolio of products at the recent inter airport show in Munich, with new products within the brand including RELIANCE omni lights, RELIANCE LED signs and what the company describes as the industry’s first red/green taxiway centre line light.

This light fixture switches between red and green, serving the dual function of a taxiway centre line light and a stop bar – this eliminating the need for taxiway intersection stop bars. The light supports safe routeing and guidance and eliminates the risk of behavioural differences between airlines and airports by adding a red stop signal for the pilot to see.

ADB SAFEGATE’s ILCMS and ALCMS also both fall within the RELIANCE brand, as does a transistor constant current regulator (CCR).

Meanwhile, the company has also been growing its customer base. In recent times, ”We have been able to register a substantial number of new orders from Manchester to Munich, from Melbourne to Chicago O’Hare, as well as in Kuwait and with the new Istanbul airport,” says Onselaere.

“Ever since we started offering AGL back in 1947, we have been very active on all continents, the major ones being Europe, North America and Asia (including the Middle East), but we have recently seen a strong increased activity in Latin America and Africa, where we have signed a series of new deals.”

Looking forward, ADB SAFEGATE’s emphasis on AGL is not expected to diminish. “Airfield ground lighting will remain one of our key domains, even if we move to increase our presence in the market for tower solutions (air traffic control) and airport-related systems, following the recent acquisition of Manchester-based Airport Systems,” Onselaere informs.

Airport Systems was bought from Ultra Electronics early this year; it specialised in providing software to airports and airlines designed to improve their operational performance.

Faster turnarounds

“We see a clear need to integrate airfield solutions across our key domains,” says Onselaere. “AGL plays a key role in the guidance of planes, not only when landing but also once landed. There is continuous pressure on airports to shorten turnaround times but that can only be done with solid collaboration between the tower (ATC), the apron and the terminal.

“AGL will support faster guidance towards the right gate and back, saving substantial time. At the same time we are continuing to look at preventive maintenance: we have our own tools like Alis (a digital asset tracking, inspection and service solution for airside assets) but we also have partnerships that allow us to automate torqueing, cleaning of prisms and even photometric measurements.”

Plus: “We have partnerships such as with a drone solution provider that cuts down on time needed and costs incurred for the visual inspection of difficult-to-reach AGL solutions, as well as the inspection of the runway more generally.

“We see a lot of the action for AGL lying in a radical decrease of the maintenance time and the integration within end-to-end systems that decrease overall aircraft turnaround times, allowing for more movements within a given airport set-up.”

Onselaere believes that the industry still needs AGL in the same way that it always has, but there are clearly identifiable market trends that are evolving the business in significant ways, such as:

  • A significant increase in airports looking to bring in more ‘intelligence in an effort to guide aircraft more quickly once they are on the ground, as well as to understand whether lights are functioning without engineers needing to physically check them
  • An ever-increasing focus on energy efficiency overall and an emphasis on smaller power solutions
  • Seamless integration of airfield lighting control and monitoring systems into tower systems, as ADB SAFEGATE demonstrated at inter airport with its ‘OneControl’ offering

He summarises: “For us, key trends would be reduced maintenance time, more intelligence, the breakdown of barriers between key functions at the airports and energy efficiency in every aspect, to support the drive towards zero carbon dioxide emissions from airports worldwide.”

Seeking a holistic solution

Honeywell (like ADB SAFEGATE, S4GA and many other AGL system and equipment manufacturers) had a large presence at inter airport in October to offer insight into its expertise in applying cutting-edge technologies in airfield lighting.

That airfield lighting expertise complements its experience in supplying and supporting a wide range of equipment and systems both landside and airside; with regard to the latter, this encompasses airfield lighting, control systems and gate management, including visual docking guidance systems (VDGS).

As a whole, Honeywell is employing the power of Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity to help orchestrate complex airport processes through intuitive mobile applications, dashboards and targeted visual displays, the company says.

Gert Taeymans, sales leader airports Europe at Honeywell Building Solutions, tells Airside something of the company’s expertise in AGL and surface management technologies. All Honeywell’s products in this area focus on improving their customers’ efficiency, capacity and safety, he says, and adhere to he latest EUROCONTROL standards.

Taeymans points to the well-known Follow the Greens project as an example of what is now achievable in terms of integrating AGL and control system technology. Follow the Greens sees an airfield lighting control system turning on airfield lights ahead of a taxiing aircraft, and off immediately behind the aeroplane. To achieve this, taxiway centre line lights are automatically and progressively switched on in segments (or individually) as the aircraft moves along its assigned route.

Pilots receive a single instruction to ‘follow the greens’ from ATC. If stop bars are implemented to protect no-go areas, then they are also automatically commanded. The solution relies on surface movement guidance and control systems (SMGCS) to provide accurate aircraft position data.

Whether the method used to guide pilots across an airside environment to/from their aircraft stand, any airport operator needs to be able to clearly identify and understand what it wants to achieve in terms of an integrated AGL/control/alerting/surface management system, Taeymans says.

The requirements must be clearly laid out, and the desired performance of any integrated SMGCS must be clearly defined. For a supplier like Honeywell, he continues, it is vital to be able to educate customers as to whether such performance can be achieved, and how.

SMGCS systems available today have very high levels of performance, as well as high levels of reliability. Associated control systems that are equally capable are also available (Honeywell has its own AGL control system that offers control and monitoring of single lamps and groups of lamps within one series circuit – thereby pinpointing failures more easily, reducing installation costs and shortening response time).

Putting all the elements of monitoring, guidance and control together in a single affordable package is the big challenge for any airport operator, Taeymans believes – and it is vital that airports look at their needs and how these can be met in a holistic way, he insists. Only then can they make the correct long-term decisions, for such systems are not cheap, although existing infrastructure such as AGL and cabling can be used wherever possible during any upgrade programme.

As for Honeywell, it is employing high-performing data fusion systems to consider the various aspects of monitoring, alerting, guidance and surface management as a whole, working closely with airport operators to understand their needs and what they will require in the future.

Honeywell uses human machine interface (HMI) technologies to model airport environments and operations, harnessing the benefits of Big Data in its efforts to create airside and landside solutions that drive efficiency, capacity and safety improvements.

The technology in this realm has moved incredibly quickly; in fact, so quickly that it has left behind the industry that it can support, Taeymans continues. AGLs last a long time, and moving to new and more sophisticated Follow the Greens-type systems has proven a step too far for many existing gateway operators – and even for many developers of entirely new airports.

Such disruptive technology of which Taeymans talks “puts pressure on budgets”, he readily points out, while those in charge of safety at airports are also often – and understandably – reluctant to move away from systems with which they have many years of familiarity.

S4GA: the ‘safest’ AGL system on the market

Warsaw, Poland-headquartered S4GA offers what it describes as ‘the world’s safest runway lighting’. It is a bold statement, and one that business development manager Dmytro Kuczeruk is keen to explain.

By the ‘safest’, S4GA refers to its AGL systems’ reliability – because its lights are solar-powered, and the sun never fails. There are two key elements to the S4GA contention that it provides the world’s safest systems: first, that traditional cable or wire-powered AGL systems can fail, no matter how many back-up systems they have; and, second, that the sun can always be relied upon to provide sufficient charge for certain types of AGL systems, given the nature of the market in which S4GA is selling its systems.

Traditional systems’ fallibility

Taking the first of those contentions, Kuczeruk points to the fact that over the last five years a number of the world’s biggest airports have suffered major problems that have caused their AGL systems to fail, with the result that flying operations at those gateways had to cease temporarily – with all the associated inconvenience and cost implications.

Kuczeruk names such gateways as Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta and Dubai International amongst the airports that have suffered major AGL problems as a result of power outages over recent years. He says that even with all the back-up systems and redundancies that these gateways build into their systems, traditional cable or wire-powered AGL systems still suffer failings in power supply or key components that can mean the airfield lights go out. Substation fires, failure of CCRs, cable damage or even main power station outages could all shut an airport’s AGL system down temporarily.

“This fact is not usually discussed,” he points out. Moreover, many airport authorities lack the finances of these global air hubs – and the multiple back-ups they can afford – and are therefore even more likely to suffer a major power outage or system failure.

Solar reliability

By way of contrast, the sun offers a cast-iron guarantee of power provision, Kuczeruk insists. Of course, this is not the case in all climates: S4GA systems would not be suitable for Scandinavia, nor even for the UK, he says, but certainly the majority of Europe offers more that enough sun, as do most non-polar regions around the world.

Nor are S4GA AGL systems suited to all airports. They would not work for 24-hour major international hubs that require power for lighting around the clock. But they are ideal for smaller, regional airports that perhaps operate only through around six hours of darkness while receiving plenty of solar charge during the day.

However, consistent daily sunlight is not necessary to charge the two batteries that each individual S4GA light contains. Each light has a 200-hour charge capacity, more than enough for weeks of night operations with no sun at all for most regional gateways – not even a remote possibility across most of the world, Kuczeruk points out.

In fact, he says, with S4GA AGL systems a catastrophic power supply loss is virtually impossible. There are two main reasons for that. First, unlike conventional systems where the power supply is centralised, in an S4GA system each light has its own independent power source. There are as many power sources as there are lights in the system.

Second, because S4GA lights are not physically connected, there is no single element that can cause the failure of an entire system. Potential failure of one or few lights would have a minimal impact on operations.

Moreover, for any customer that really wants peace of mind, S4GA offers hybrid AGL systems that combine solar panel charging with back-up cable/wire-delivered power – but the extra cost is really unnecessary in the vast majority of cases, Kuczeruk adds.