Light-emitting diode (LED) technology holds significant promise for airfield lighting in the U.S, mainly in terms of the potential for longer operating lives and increased efficacy of LEDs compared to incandescent lamps, the most common light source on airport runways and taxiways today. Throughout the past decade, the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has assisted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to understand and maximize the benefits of LED lighting technologies.
Drawing on the experience of airport operators, on published accounts of LED airfield installations, and on the LRC’s knowledge of LED lighting technologies and aviation applications, John Bullough, senior research scientist and adjunct assistant professor at the LRC, authored a newly published report written to assist airports as they decide if and when to install LED runway and taxiway lights. The report was published by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies through the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP), which funded the study. A panel of experts from aviation, government, industry, and academia appointed by the National Academies oversaw the project.
Bullough’s report summarizes the responses of airports across the country to a survey questionnaire regarding their experiences with LED airfield lighting, supplemented by published reports that until now have been scattered in many locations. “LED runway and taxiway lighting systems can save airports time and money,” said Bullough. “FAA requirements for LED lighting help ensure that these systems work as promised, and the technology regularly improves to keep up with those requirements.”
Bullough found that the largest area for savings by airports was in terms of reduced maintenance requirements, followed by lower energy use. “LED airfield lighting uses much less energy than incandescent, but airfield electrical systems are optimized for incandescent lamps, not LEDs. Even more energy can be saved if electrical systems are designed with the reduced loads of LEDs in mind,” he said. The FAA is now investigating new electrical infrastructures for airfield lighting that will help maximize energy savings and reliability.
The report also contains an overview of LED light source technology, the relevant FAA guidance documents for airfield lighting, and pointers to resources on airport funding and economic cost analysis tools. Bullough’s report, Issues with Use of LED Airfield Lighting: ACRP Synthesis 35, is available for download from the TRB website at: http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/acrp/acrp_syn_035.pdf.