Shining a light on changing AGL technology

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As airports right around the world switch to LED for their airfield lighting systems as fast as budgets allow, AGL designers and manufacturers are already looking for the next technological breakthrough

ADB Airfield Solutions, the Zaventem, Belgium-based designer, manufacturer and supplier of airfield ground lighting (AGL) equipment, was acquired by European private equity company PAI Partners in the spring of 2013 and – according to ADB’s CEO, Christian Onselaere – its new shareholders have offered excellent support on many different levels. “The recent acquisition of (airport lighting system specialist) LUCEBIT and (a  nother member of the LUCEBIT Group) ERNI is proof of this, and we see the collaboration with PAI as a real partnership for growth,” he insists.

When Doha’s new Hamad International Airport (HIA) opened for business earlier this year, it was a big day for many people and companies involved, not least ADB. The AGL specialist has invested substantially in a turnkey system at the new gateway. More than 45 ADB personnel are currently deployed at the airport, and doing what Onselaere describes as “a remarkable job” of handling the maintenance of the extensive AGL complex at the airport.

ADB was contracted to design, install, integrate and service more than 8,000 individual airfield lights at HIA. And at the heart of that design process is being able to offer the very best in modern lighting technology. “As an innovator, we constantly need to keep our finger on the pulse, be aware of what new technologies are coming onto the market and how we can use and integrate these in our current product portfolio or create completely new airfield products,” Onselaere remarks.

“We want to be seen as a master of the airfield based on our clear focus and 67 years of experience,” he continues. Working on a multitude of technologies that improve the performance of current products, ADB is also investigating possible successor systems to LED lighting, looking for other, even more creative, solutions when designing for the future. There are several possibilities: OLEDs (organic LEDs), remote phosphor laser systems and high-density multichip LEDs are all regarded as having particularly significant potential.

In the meantime, the company is continuing to focus on maximising the capability of current ADB products, while also working to extend their operating lifespan and optimise their so-called MTBF (minimum time between failure).

Plus: “We are not only looking at airfield lighting but also at innovative power solutions, as more and more customers are looking into other solutions to power-specific functionalities on the airfield. Our focus is on testing new power solutions that decrease complexity and maximise the energy efficiency of LEDs,” Onselaere reveals. But it doesn’t stop there: visual guidance systems, signage and other capabilities are all currently being reviewed to determine current and future needs.

While developments in LED lighting may now be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the growth in demand for airfield LED systems has been spectacular, as much over the past year as ever. “A few years ago we would never have thought that the trend would be so rapid,” Onselaere admits. More and more airports have committed to become CO2 neutral and they are selecting technologies that are energy efficient while also looking to decrease the frequency of maintenance interventions in order to minimise downtime and costs.”

Of course, most airports are not able to move to an all-LED environment immediately – the costs involved are significant. Hence, the process of AGL transition is linked to refurbishments, renovations or extensions, but ADB is amongst the many AGL suppliers that has seen more and more airports clearly convinced of the benefits of LEDs – most notably, in the form of substantial energy savings (they offer a much higher MTBF than halogen lights), lower maintenance costs, higher reliability and much better visibility.

Runway incursions

Any efficient system of AGL is going to minimise the frequency of runway incursions, and thereby help to keep the airfield safe.  Recent incidents at some key airports worldwide have illustrated the ongoing need for a stronger focus on airfield maintenance.

For example, at one major airport recently, part of the AGL system actually turned into a major FOD (foreign object debris) threat when lights came loose, thereby offering the danger of the equipment being sucked into an aircraft engine. And, once again this year, aircraft have been involved in near-collisions that could well have proved fatal as a result of pilots taxiing across a runway without ATC clearance.

ADB’s Onselaere believes that these incidents point towards two very critical areas of concern – one being the growing need for better management of all maintenance at airports such that occurrences of FOD can be minimised, the other being the need for autonomous alerting systems that are dynamic and that can prevent or mitigate runway incursions.

In the case of FOD, the resulting damage is estimated to cost the aerospace industry billions of dollars a year (to say nothing of the potential danger to life and limb). “We believe this can be avoided with a scientifically structured and preventative approach to maintenance,” Onselaere observes. With this in mind, ADB has developed its AirSide asset tracking and management database solution, which he says builds on the extensive field expertise and in-depth understanding of ADB’s service engineers as well as modern RFID tracing technology.

Meanwhile, to prevent runway incursions, ADB’s Sensor Controlled Incursion Prevention System (SCIPS) automatically detects a runway incursion and provides a targeted warning to the offending aircraft or vehicle. SCIPS was recently trialled successfully at the UK’s Aberdeen International Airport.

Technological advances

ADB Airfield Solutions is not the only technological innovator active in the AGL segment. For instance: “Over the last 18 months atg has designed and delivered several new and innovative AGL products to market for Cat I, II and III civil airports, in addition to a specialised range of military products,” says Andy Sole, strategic development director at airfield lighting and control system specialist atg airports.

In particular, he considers: “The new LED IRIS inset range of luminaires has revolutionised atg airports’ AGL fittings and is regarded as one of the best, high-quality engineered products available.”

The IRIS LED inset fitting is the only luminaire that uses a plug and play optical cartridge design currently available on the market – providing what atg considers the fastest and most effective maintenance operation for airfield engineering personnel to maintain airside fittings and minimise operational costs. With an average of 72,000 hours luminescence per fitting, commonality of spare parts and huge investment in global after-sales support, the company says that with this product it can deliver “major savings in both power consumption and maintenance costs for civil and military airports and airfields across the globe”.

Furthermore, this coming January, atg is launching a new LED taxiway elevated fitting, while a new range of LED Clearway airfield signs will follow. Both of these products, whilst retaining the highest engineering standards, will offer airports competitively priced equipment, Sole notes.

Moreover, he continues: “We are adopting new unique techniques in how we approach both the design and manufacture of luminaires and AGL equipment, and combining this with how our turnkey project and control system teams work with airport stakeholders, and main contractors, to deliver the most efficient and competitive processes. Over the past 12 months, atg airports has been engaged in an open and creative process by working very closely and in a collaborative manner with our clients to derive new ways to make maintenance, installation, testing and commissioning of AGL systems including procurement strategies that are breaking new ground.”

It’s not all about ‘out with the old and in with the new’ though. “Whilst LED is the newest luminaire innovation technology in the AGL sector, atg airports understands that tungsten halogen fittings remain at approximately 90% of the world’s airports,” he says. As such, the company is continuing to develop new products and spare parts to maintain atg halogen fittings. “We understand that not all airports will change to LED and atg airports’ R&D continues to improve its tungsten halogen fittings in terms of performance, maintenance cost reductions and after-sales support.”

And atg airports certainly seems to be benefiting from its strategy of innovating in the LED field while continuing to support older technologies. This year, the company has sealed major contracts with the likes of RAF Waddington (for AGL and control system equipment), London Gatwick Airport (for taxiway rehabilitation), London Heathrow (for a new LED Approach Lighting System), plus many others in the UK and in overseas locations as diverse as Australia, Bolivia, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Romania and Taiwan.

Following your own path

There are numerous designers and manufacturers of airfield lighting equipment that don’t have the same scale of operations as companies such as ADB and atg. One such is Holland-based Holland Aviation, which specialises in portable airfield lighting and heliport and helideck lighting, as well as portable windsock assemblies.

It has chosen to compete in the niche area of portable lighting, one example being its road-going trailer-mounted Portable Runway Lighting Kit for up to 72 portable lights. According to sales account manager Terry Lambourne, LED is certainly the future; to all intents and purposes, he believes LED technology to have already replaced all other incandescent and halogen light forms.

Holland Aviation is “steadily growing and following its own path in the AGL sector”, he adds.

Under new management

atg airports introduced a new management structure at the start of May this year. Almost six months in, the company has seen significant innovation and developments in its AGL products and its turnkey project installation teams. New managing director Dave Watterson comments: “Ultimately, the innovation and changes we are making are being driven from working individually with our clients in a creative open process and reacting to their needs of quality, cost, reliability and sustainability. It’s been a challenge and a time of change but the results of close collaboration are highly rewarding and motivating.”

Smarter and quicker (MALMS)

With many airports having pared staff levels back and all of them looking to maximise efficiencies, gateways around the world are looking to do things smarter and to do things better, observes Wayne Rolfe, sales and marketing manager for Tailor Made Systems, the UK-based company that offers the MALMS (Mobile Airfield Light Monitoring System) photometric testing and measurement product line to the aviation market.

And when it comes to the testing and maintenance of airfield ground lighting, the MALMS package of products enables airports to be both smart and efficient, Rolfe insists. As well as the MALMS Mobile trailer-based system for infield inspections, the integrated product line also incorporates the MALMS Workshop tester for workshop-based testing of repaired lights, a trailer-mounted automated light cleaning system called MALMS Cleaner and – bringing it all together – MALMS Engineer, a Windows-based airfield lighting inspection and maintenance tool that records and reports all relevant faults, maintenance actions, inspection activities and torque measurement.

By means of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags located on or near airfield lights, or simply by the inspectors using GPS tracking and an airport map, the identity of individual lights can be identified; MALMS Engineer can then record any faults picked up either visually or by MALMS photometric inspection in relation to those specific assets.

A maintenance schedule tool can be used as part of the system, and can also be integrated into the airport’s own safety management system as well as with the airport’s asset management system. That capability is crucial to airports today, Wolfe notes. MALMS Engineer gives airports the assurance that all their lights are being inspected in accordance with their own and/or national or international regulatory requirements.

With the help of such accurate and systematic records of inspections, serviceability and fault description, a system of proactive maintenance can be put in place, he explains. Such a programme will not only ensure less downtime of individual lights but will also allow maintenance to take place at a time of choosing to the airport authority – at night perhaps, rather than at operationally busier times during the day.

The integrated MALMS package has proved a popular concept. Dubai Airport, for example, is expanding its inventory to include the full suite of MALMS products, as is Doha International Airport. European gateways such as Manchester, Dublin, Zurich and Luxembourg have all expanded their range of MALMS products to incorporate new ways of maintaining their airfield lights, while MALMS customers further afield include Durban in South Africa, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver in Canada, and Orlando in the US.