Researchers develop portable airport lighting system

July 3, 2008

College researchers are developing technology that should literally light the way to remote landing facilities.

The low-cost, portable Remote Airport Light System (RALS) uses LED lights and retro-reflective markers. It can easily be transported to airfields that don’t have electrical grids so that disaster relief and medical workers can land safely. The system is especially useful in Alaska.

RALS was developed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University researchers and their partners from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, University of North Dakota, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute under the FAA Center of Excellence for General Aviation.

The system was successfully tested at Massay Ranch Airpark in Edgewater, Fla. The next step is to install the system in Alaska for nighttime trials through December.

In the RALS setup, typical edge lights are replaced with reflective panels, similar to the technology on road signs, to assist the pilot in safely landing the aircraft. This kind of marker requires no power and is more brightly visible when lit by an airplane’s landing lights. The system uses low-powered LED lights to mark the corners of the landing strip.

“In the present economy, airports are looking for ways to cut costs while still maintaining high safety standards,” said Dr. Chris Grant, director of Embry-Riddle’s research team and associate dean of the College of Engineering. “Considering that a standard FAA-approved lighting system can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million, depending on the number of runways and taxiways, our test system is a bargain at only $3,000.”

The LED lights have a lifetime of about 25,000 to 30,000 hours, last 10 to 20 times longer than the incandescent bulbs typically used, and reduce energy consumption by about two-thirds.