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Five things to consider for successful AGL installation

Article by Bennie Langenhoven, managing executive, Tellumat Air Traffic Management (ATM)

Airfield ground lighting (AGL) installations can easily end up being over-engineered, too expensive, not fit for purpose, or obsolete before their time.

Consider the following five success factors for a cost-effective, future-proof AGL installation that meets your specific airfield or airport’s needs.

  1. Type of installation

The first question you should ask yourself is this: Are you planning a first installation, repairing an existing system, or upgrading? A new site will require extensive preparation, while repairs or an upgrade will require an inspection of the existing infrastructure. Either way, you will need a stringent survey by an experienced AGL service provider, who will then list the full requirements of the new or upgrade-destined site.

Also establish the long-term objectives for the site. What other installations may be required in future? It’s tempting to think only of the next 12 months when cost is a factor, but considerable savings can be had over longer periods if future requirements are considered now, thereby making further upgrades unnecessary.

  1. Size of airport & type of operation

The size of your airport or airfield will influence all decisions around initial AGL selection and planning. Again, keep future requirements in mind when selecting your AGL solution for size. While your airport or airfield might be small today, an expansion of your facilities may well be necessary within the next five years.

Also consider what type of operation you’re planning. What ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) category airport are you operating – 1, 2 or 3? Do you intend to grow, upgrade or stay the same? Once again, it would be wise to plan for future eventualities. While immediate requirements may only call for one cable, consider installing at least two to three cable sleeves to allow for more later.

The size of your airport or airfield will also dictate your energy requirements. Larger airports, whose lights are needed 24×7, would be wise to opt for an energy-saving LED solution. However, in the case of smaller airports and airfields, approaching pilots can safely be enabled to remotely switch on lights only for the time they’re needed, so energy cost savings might not be such a pressing consideration.

  1. The right partners

Any AGL installation project will require a layout and marking engineering designer, an original equipment manufacturing (OEM) and an installation partner. When selecting your partners, firstly consider the long-term support each will be able to provide over the full life cycle of the installation (a minimum of 10 years). Are you confident that they will be around for that long?

Does your OEM partner have a good track record of providing systems installation, after-sales support and equipment? Some OEM equipment is interchangeable with others. Is this likely to be important to you in the future?

Does your installation partner have customer references across various types of installations and sizes of airports? Do their systems and equipment come with a good warranty and spares for purchase? Do they offer 24×7 support?

  1. Certification & compliance

As AGL is critical to air and passenger safety, certification and adherence to official standards should be foremost on your mind. Failure to insist on compliance to the appropriate standards could risk the equipment not being certified to the required standard, with no assurance as to how lights will perform across a range of weather conditions.

Assess your partners’ 100% compliance with all the necessary regulations – ICAO’s as well as those of the relevant civil aviation authority. 

  1. Technology

Traditionally, halogen lighting has been the benchmark of AGL installations. But while it’s still used widely, technological advances have resulted in a definite shift towards the use of energy efficient LED as the new standard.

Notwithstanding big interest in solar, it has not yet proved itself as a long-term solution for larger airports and should only be used as a temporary solution or for smaller installations.

  • When choosing between LED and halogen, consider:
  • The lifetime of the solution – although more expensive upfront, LED will last much longer than halogen.
  • Airport size – larger airports will experience a far quicker ROI on LED.
  • Maintenance – with halogen lamps lasting around 1,000 hours, you should factor in the cost of replacement downtime and the services of an electrician. LED, which lasts longer, requires less maintenance.
  • Quality – LED delivers consistently high-quality lighting over a long period of time, whilst the quality of halogen lighting decreases with time.

Solar is:

  • Recommended as a temporary solution for larger, busy international airports.
  • Ideally suited to smaller airfields when installed as a permanent solution, as it requires less infrastructure (no cables); offers quick installation and significantly lower cost; and is portable (also making it suitable as a temporary solution, e.g. on a farm, that can easily be moved elsewhere).



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