Intelligent airfield lighting control delivers a safer and more efficient future for airports

Aviation is changing. Airports are enjoying unprecedented growth prospects as demand for air travel continues to climb. New business is everywhere and can be won by delivering the best, delay-free passenger experience. Upgrading existing airport infrastructure is a cost-effective way to help cope with constantly rising air traffic. Intelligent ground lighting systems are proven to increase operational efficiency and improve safety.

The growth in aviation, with air traffic doubling every 15 years since the 1970s, shows no signs of slowing. Future growth seems equally strong, with an ACI Europe paper on airport capacity reporting that, if no action is taken, airports in Europe will not be able to meet 12 percent of passenger demand by 2035. This would mean that more than 237 million passengers would not be able to fly. This is a problem not just for Europe. Despite currently planned construction efforts, all regions are expected to experience capacity shortages of up to 50 percent by 2024.

While relentless demand stretches airport capacity and operations to the limit, there are other challenges too. Cost pressures are rising and passengers are demanding a higher quality travel experience. Ever-tightening regulatory frameworks, unwavering focus on safety and growing environmental pressures are all forcing airports to rethink their operations. By upgrading their existing operational systems, airports can go a long way to meeting all these challenges while reducing the need to build substantial new infrastructure. This is especially true in the application of advanced technology to cut Air Traffic Control (ATC) complexity and increase operational efficiency and safety.

Ground lighting sits at the heart of airfield operations and upgrading to the latest intelligent technology opens up many new ways to improve operational efficiency and safety. Intelligent lighting is about more than just switching lights on and off. It’s about integrating the control of airfield lighting with airfield surveillance and aircraft tracking systems to achieve optimum aircraft routing to and from gates. And it’s about greatly improving airfield safety by providing ATC with much better situational awareness.

By creating more efficient traffic flows, intelligent airfield lighting can bring substantial efficiency improvements. For example, it has been calculated that at one major international airport, intelligent airfield lighting is saving up to three minutes additional taxi time per movement.

While the basic technology of Individual Lighting Control and Monitoring Systems, or ILCMS, has been available for many years, poor early installations implemented by contractors with little understanding of the technology, have damaged the image of ILCMS. Things have changed.

In the last ten years, ILCMS has evolved substantially. The latest systems are easily integrated with an airport’s existing infrastructure to provide the information that ATC and pilots need to maintain the highest safety standards while ensuring their airfield can handle the maximum number of movements.

A green light for safety

One of the major advantages of an ILCMS is the ability to use the lighting in a smart way to manage aircraft movements. With ILCMS, ‘Follow the Greens’ schemes can be set up, in which taxiway lights can be switched on in sequence to guide aircraft to and from the gates. The ‘Follow the Greens’ procedure automatically provides flight crews with clear visual guidance while taxiing by individually illuminating the centre-line lights in front of the aircraft and switching off the segments not needed. ‘Follow the Greens’ schemes require full ILCMS coverage, as well as level 2 surveillance under the Advanced-Surface Movement Guidance and Control Systems (A-SMGCS) as defined by Eurocontrol. As such, ILCMS is a prerequisite for major hub airports with both the need and ambition for Follow the Greens and A-SMGCS.

Cutting taxi time

More efficient aircraft movements reduce taxiing time, especially at large hub airports with a complex layout of interlocking taxiways. Such advanced and automated control also provides ATC with comprehensive situational awareness that greatly reduces the risk of runway incursions. The result is that airports can handle more aircraft with greater safety to improve their capacity and revenue. Effective guidance is even maintained should communications between ATC and the aircraft be interrupted, or when poor visibility would otherwise hamper or even stop operations.

A SESAR exercise carried out at Frankfurt airport showed that automatic guidance using airport lighting increased the safety and predictability of aircraft movements while also producing significant improvements in other key measurements. Yet despite all these advantages, ILCMS does not take control away from ATC – the intelligence is at controllers’ fingertips and control stays in their hands. What ILCMS does do is to give ATC new capabilities to allow incoming and outgoing flights to be better prioritized according to flight crew working time restrictions, or to give priority to premium airlines for example.

A leading solution is ADB SAFEGATE’s SafeControl-ILCMS, an individual light control and monitoring system that makes ground movements safer and faster while providing visual aids to complement the verbal communication between tower and pilots. Overall, ILCMS provides better safety while allowing the airport to maximize the use of often scarce landing slots and ground space.

ADB SAFEGATE is a leading provider of intelligent solutions that deliver superior airport performance from approach to departure. We partner with airports and airlines to analyze their current structures and operations, and jointly identify and solve bottlenecks. Our consultative approach enables airports to improve efficiency, enhance safety and environmental sustainability, as well as reduce operational costs. Our portfolio includes solutions and services that harmonize airport performance, tackling every aspect of traffic handling and guidance, from approach, runway and taxiway lighting, to tower-based traffic control systems and intelligent gate and docking automation. ADB SAFEGATE has 900+ employees in more than 20 countries and serves some 2,500+ airports in more than 175 countries.