New Apron Lighting Resolves Glaring Issues at Dallas Love Field

New Apron Lighting Resolves Glaring Issues at Dallas Love Field
Ken Wysocky
Published in: 

Pilots, baggage handlers and ground crews at Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) are seeing things in a different light these days, courtesy of a $1.7 million upgrade of lighting fixtures around the terminal apron.

Along with increasing operational safety and efficiency, the new high-efficiency LED lights are expected to cut the airport’s annual energy bill by nearly $30,000 and last significantly longer than its old metal halide bulbs.

The new lighting system, designed by engineering consultant Garver USA, replaces floodlights installed when the new terminal opened in 2014 and LED lighting was still in its infancy. Patrick Carreno, the airport’s aviation director, reports that upgrades completed last fall resolved issues such as harsh glare and poor light quality, insufficient illumination in some parts of the apron and time-consuming maintenance to replace the metal halite lightbulbs. 


Project: LED Apron Lighting

Location: Dallas Love Field Airport

Airport Owner/Operator: City of Dallas

2022 Passenger Volume: About 73.4 million

Project Cost: $1.7 million

Funding: General airport revenue

Construction: June 2021-Sept. 2022

Main Components: New LED light fixtures (115); poles & control boxes

Prime Consultant: Garver USA

Prime Contractor: Holt Construction

Light Fixtures: Musco

Key Features: LED lights that last longer than metal halide fixtures & improve light coverage, quality & uniformity; easily accessible electrical components; remote dimming capability; wireless system monitoring

Key Benefits: Improved safety by eliminating glare for pilots; reduced energy costs; improved ramp operations through better visibility; significantly less time spent changing lightbulbs 

“The glare from the old lights was causing some challenges for airline pilots taxiing into gates,” Carreno says. “But the new lights provide a much higher quality of light. And because there’s more output and coverage, it makes ramp operations safer.

“We’re gate-constrained, so each of our gates (20 in all) are highly utilized,” he adds. “They’re very congested and busy. So the improved lighting really helps increase safety and efficiency of ramp operations.”

Emerging From the Shadows

Insufficient lighting also made work harder for baggage handlers, says Sunday Odiyeye, an aviation engineer at DAL. Sometimes, airlines even rented temporary light stands to provide more illumination.

The old lights were mounted on poles atop the terminal and aimed down at about a 45-degree angle, which created significant shadowing under
the wings of parked aircraft, and also between parked aircraft and the terminal.

“Baggage handlers that work at night complained about not having enough light at the back of the planes while loading and unloading cargo,” Odiyeye says.

Moreover, replacing the halite lightbulbs had become a maintenance nightmare. “At one point, we had to hire a third-party contractor to be on standby for bulb replacements, in case our maintenance staff couldn’t keep up with it,” he shares. “Now we’ve been able to repurpose their time so they can handle other terminal issues aside from changing lightbulbs.”

The bulk of the project was completed between June 2021 and September 2022. Holt Construction installed the new lights as well as new conduit and control boxes.

Work was performed in phases to avoid disrupting airfield operations, but supply-chain challenges caused some delays to the original schedule. Most of the work was completed during daylight hours.

LED There Be Light

Crews replaced 101 existing lights with 115 LED fixtures designed and engineered by Musco. Most of the additional lights were installed at an overnight aircraft parking area that also serves as a deicing pad.

New lights for the apron and three overnight aircraft parking area were mounted on 30-foot-tall poles installed atop the 40-foot-tall terminal. In addition, two lights were installed directly on the terminal building to illuminate a vehicle service road. Lighting at a fourth overnight parking areas will be upgraded later this year or early in 2024.

The new, more energy-efficient LED lights—which come with a 10-year warranty—are expected to reduce the airport’s energy costs by an estimated $22,965 per year. And the savings could increase by roughly 15% if the airport dims lights when less illumination is required, notes Corey Holland, key account manager at Musco.

In addition, DAL will save about $6,750 annually by eliminating the need to rent a boom truck to change the metal halide lightbulbs.

The airport’s new LED system provides better color quality and coverage, and the bulbs last significantly longer than metal halide lightbulbs, says Vladimir Stevanovic, aviation leader for electrical resiliency at Garver.

“A typical 60-watt incandescent bulb, for instance, can be now replaced with a 10- to 15-watt LED fixture, but still produce the equivalent or even more lumens than the incandescent bulb,” Stevanovic says. “We significantly reduced glare and light pollution at the airport, which ultimately benefits the surrounding environment and supports the city of Dallas’ dark skies initiative.”

Laying the Groundwork

Planning for the project began in 2019 when the airport hired Garver, which worked with Musco to develop a new lighting plan.

“There’s a lot more involved than just grabbing some light fixtures and putting them up,” Holland notes.

Three-dimensional modeling software allowed project engineers to input different lighting configurations and accurately predict the associated level of light and how it is dispersed.

“The most important thing was making sure the fixtures have the capability to spread enough light on the apron in a uniform way,” Stevanovic emphasizes. “Uniformity is very important. When lighting is uniform, it improves user perception and provides visual comfort—even at lower light levels. Therefore, it allows you to see the entire premises clearly.”

To help ensure uniformity, all fixtures were installed at the same height of 70 feet. “We don’t want too much light in one area and not enough in another area, which creates a scalloped effect,” Holland explains. 

Fixtures for DAL were built and installed to specific optic specifications. For example, each fixture was “aimed” at a specific angle to direct light as dictated by the 3-D model. This maximizes light distribution while also minimizing glare. As a result, each light had to be installed at a specific location on a pole crossarm, as well as on a specific pole at a specific gate.

“That way, we know the light will be applied in the field like the way it was designed in the modeling software,” Holland says.

The new fixtures also include patented visors that help minimize potential glare.

After the lights were installed, Musco tested the light levels at each gate.

“That ensures everything matches up to the photometry (light measurements) we provided to Garver in the first place,” Holland says.

Advanced Technology

The new Musco system includes a unique feature: an electrical-components enclosure (control box) at the base of each pole that contains the lights’ drivers, or power source. Holland explains that this greatly simplifies maintenance because workers can access the control boxes without using a boom lift or requiring the closure of an airline gate.

“We specifically designed a driver that can operate while some distance away from the fixtures,” he explains.

Each pole is also equipped with a wireless radio that monitors each LED fixture and automatically sends an alert for power outages and other electrical issues. It also tracks hours of usage.

“On top of that, the airport can use the Musco website or Musco app to control lighting in various zones,” Holland adds. “They can remotely turn lights on or off, or program them to dim at certain times.”

Moreover, the company monitors customers’ lighting systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Sometimes we know there’s a light outage—and even what caused it—before a customer knows about it,” says Holland.

Noticeable Results

As for DAL’s new lighting, Odiyeye says it’s literally a night-and-day difference compared to the old system.

“At night, it feels like you’re standing in daylight,” he remarks.

Carreno reports that the consensus among ramp workers, air traffic controllers and pilots is that the new apron lighting is a big improvement.

“It’s helped us from a safety perspective, and we’ve also helped improve efficiency on ramps that are very busy,” he adds. “It’s one more thing we no longer have to worry about as we move forward on our continued efforts to keep improving the airport.”


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