To the future of airfield lighting: automation in Airfield Ground Lighting design

Jelmer van der Meer by Jelmer van der Meer | Nov 30, 2023
Jelmer van der Meer, Director of Airport Asset Design, and Aasif Bapoo, Airport Engineer at NACO, talk about the use of automated design for runway and taxiway lighting.

Automation has emerged as a significant topic across industries, and airport engineering is no exception. To stay ahead in innovation and adopt new technologies, it’s important to study how automation affects airport engineering. In this article, we will focus on the design of Airfield Ground Lighting (AGL) systems.

Airfields is an area where the potential of automation is put to the true test. Airfields present unique challenges that hinder the implementation of automation, mainly due to managing extensive airside assets comparable to that of a small town’s infrastructure. Every element, from pavements to utilities and light fixtures, must adhere to strict codes and regulations. With adherence to strict codes and regulations, meticulous engineering becomes paramount in ensuring the proper functioning of Airfield Ground Lighting for runways and taxiways.

Out with the old, in with the new

Airfield Ground Lighting (AGL) systems are essential for navigating runways and taxiways during low visibility and nighttime conditions. The design process for Airfield Ground Lighting follows structured geometric principles and meets international standards such as ICAO Annex 14.

AGL design involves evaluating the shape and layout of the aircraft movement area, identifying tangents and curves. Engineers ensure that lighting fixtures are placed correctly, following specific spacing and alignment rules. They also need to consider the placement of concrete joints to prevent conflicts with lighting fixtures and verify the proper sequencing of lighting circuits.

However, the traditional approach to Airfield Ground Lighting design requires engineers to manually manage and review the placement of numerous elements. This included thousands or even tens of thousands of items such as lighting fixtures, foundations, manholes, poles, and ducts. The challenge is to arrange all these elements in compliance with regulations while considering existing assets. The process, which initially involves 2D design setup, is time-consuming and involves extensive cross-checking and transferring of information to produce 3D outputs.

This creates a double challenge, as it is both laborious work and requires high accuracy. When dealing with such detailed work, human intervention introduces a higher risk of errors. Even the most skilled engineers spend countless design hours trying to manage and review the placement of these numerous elements. This is where automation offers a solution that not only solves the problem but also creates new opportunities and potential for AGL design.

Giving the gift of time

By automating key aspects of the design process and leveraging open-source platforms for data fusion and real-time collaboration, we have revolutionized how AGL design is approached. This shift has made the once static process dynamic, resulting in more flexible, efficient, responsive, and reliable designs.

We used design software such as Autodesk, Python, and Revit, harnessing the unique strengths of each tool. Through the application of data fusion techniques, we achieved seamless interoperability between these software platforms. This integration has allowed us to deliver efficient and reliable construction outputs at an unprecedented pace.

This increased reliability brings several important advantages. It reduces rework, establishes a robust asset management system, identifies construction interfaces early in the design process, and minimizes costly and time-consuming revisions. Furthermore, by involving engineers more extensively in the early procurement stages, we can proactively address unexpected long lead item requirements and prevent delays.

With worldwide implementation of these approaches, engineers and designers receive the gift of time. We have observed up to a 40% decrease in the time spent on repetitive tasks such as light placement and ducting, allowing designers to allocate more time to crucial tasks. Automation has alleviated the burden of tedious duties and provided us with extra time for reviewing, iterating, and innovating. This enables us to deliver robust designs that precisely meet our clients’ requirements.

Construction of Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport (WSI) is underway and on track to begin operations in 2026. 

Case study: delivery of automated Airfield Ground Lighting design in Western Sydney Airport

Let’s delve into the successful implementation of automation in the Western Sydney Airport project. We used automation to enhance the design process and ensure compliance with relevant codes and regulations. We made this possible through developing highly efficient tools, which enabled us to:

  • Successfully lay a network of 63 kilometres of ducts.
  • Place and update over 20,000 model elements.
  • Populate more than 600,000 rows of data in over 50,000 elements.

To illustrate the impact of automation: according to FAA 150/5340-30J regulations, airfield ground lights must be positioned 0.6 meters away from concrete pavement joints. In the past, ensuring compliance required manually analyzing joint and light locations, meticulously angle measuring angles, and resolving issues – often taking hours.

However, thanks to the automated workflows, we were able to accomplish this task in under 60 seconds. This efficiency enabled us to generate multiple iterations within the same timeframe while visually presenting clear solutions to designers, clients, and stakeholders. The results spoke for themselves – additional design optimization, improved constructability, reduced construction time, and ultimately, significant cost savings.

A future way of working, today

The revolutionary impact of automation and digital transformation on AGL engineering cannot be overlooked. These cutting-edge technologies not only enhance efficiency and accuracy but also empower engineers to elevate the overall design output, delivering superior end products to the clients and stakeholders.

By delegating repetitive tasks to automated systems, we can now focus on critical engineering and optimization work. This leads to heightened productivity and an unprecedented improvement in the quality of our products.

The advent of digital transformation and automation is reshaping engineering design processes, placing efficiency and innovation at the forefront of global engineering endeavours. Embracing this future-proof way of working guarantees remarkable advancements in the field of AGL engineering.

Jelmer van der Meer

Jelmer van der Meer

Director of Airport Asset Design at NACO
Jelmer van der Meer is a Director Airport Asset Design at NACO, Netherlands Airport Consultants, a company of Royal HaskoningDHV.
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