For the past decade, the Lighting Research Center of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to evaluate the benefits of LED lighting technology for airfield applications. John Bullough, senior research scientist and adjunct RPI professor, recently published their findings in Issues with Use of LED Airfield Lighting: ACRP Synthesis 35.
Solid state lighting was tapped because for significantly longer operating lives and increased energy efficiency. Published accounts of LED airfield installations, compounded with survey results from operators of 22 different airports across the country, indicate resounding favor for the new technology. Through reduced maintenance and electricity, Bullough writes that “LED runway and taxiway lighting systems can save airports time and money.”
The reduced maintenance represents especially significant savings, as typical airfield incandescent lights require relamping twice a year. It’s worth noting that properly installed LED bulbs almost never experience catastrophic failure (less than 1%) and instead dim slightly over time, they are much more reliable and safer to use, since they will not blow out when needed in action.
But some hurdles still remain. “LED airfield lighting uses much less energy than incandescent, but airfield electrical systems are optimized for incandescent lamps, not LEDs,” reports Bullough. The prematurely failing LED lights in the study were linked with incompatible systems. “Even more energy can be saved if electrical systems are designed with the reduced loads of LEDs in mind.”
The good news is that the FAA is currently establishing new electrical infrastructures to maximize energy savings and reliability. “FAA requirements for LED lighting help ensure that these systems work as promised, and the technology regularly improves to keep up with those requirements,” said Bullough. So it’s only a matter of time before this new technology really takes off!