Vancouver Int'l Upgrades Its Airfield Lighting Control Monitoring System

Carroll McCormick
Published in: 


Project: Airfield Lighting Control & Monitoring
System, with Surface Movement Guidance & Control System (SMGCS) control

Location: Vancouver Int’l Airport

Project Budget: $2.5 million

Owner: Vancouver Int’l Airport Authority

Commissioned: July 2012

Prime Construction & Design Contractor: Liberty Airport Systems

Estimator: Liberty

System Elements Include:
11 controllable Stop Bars; 175 CCR Distributed Monitoring & Control Units

Benefits Include: Restored full SMGCS control in low-visibility operations

Of Note: Air traffic controllers use tablet PCs to operate SMGCS

In good weather and bad, air traffic controllers and airport maintenance personnel need an Airfield Lighting Control Monitoring System (ALCMS) that is highly reliable and inspires confidence. Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has found just that in its new $2.5 million ALCMS. In addition to providing improved monitoring, data collection and troubleshooting capabilities, the new system also includes four 10-inch tablet PCs, dedicated solely to the operation of the Surface Movement Guidance and Control System (SMGCS) by air traffic controllers.

YVR cites several reasons for replacing the entire ALCMS, which controls and monitors 4,000 or so airside lights. The old SMGCS did not communicate reliably with the 11 controllable stop bars, and the airport faced the crippling prospect of being restricted to having only one aircraft depart the gate at a time in low visibility conditions. In addition, repairing the system or expanding it to accommodate additional lighting was very time-consuming.

The airport chose Liberty Airport Systems to design its new ALCMS. The company added the touch-screen tablets at the request of Nav Canada, the country's air navigation service provider. This addition is an industry first, reports Don Gordon, Liberty's vice president of sales.

"These dedicated displays, with custom graphics, support the high demand for stop bar control operations in low visibility conditions, while minimizing the burden on the busy controllers," Gordon explains.

In-House Advantages

"Previously, if we had problems, we had to fly someone in to fix it," explains Christoph Rufenacht, manager, engineering projects, Vancouver Airport Authority. "Now our electricians can go into the system and do a lot of the troubleshooting themselves. In 95 percent of the cases, they can drill into the system without having to go into the field and open things up."

The new SMGCS provides the airport with similar ease, continues Rufenacht: "Maintenance can go into it and see which light is giving the warning, then drill down to see if a lamp is burned out or if there is a control unit problem. If our guys can't fix it, we get Liberty to dial into the system to find out what is going on."

The company can remotely expand the system and screen graphics to accommodate additional lighting in hours, instead of months, he adds.

While Rufenacht acknowledges that it was a major project to switch to a new ALCMS, he also notes that the airport made the investment with the expectation of tangible returns. "A real focus of our airport over the last year has been how we can increase efficiencies and reduce operating costs to our stakeholders," he explains. "The new ALCMS makes sense on many different levels."

Liberty installed its FAA L-890-BD-rated Freedom Series ALCMS at YVR under a design/build contract. The new system provides air traffic controllers, the front line users of the system, with full monitoring and control of the airfield lighting equipment. Its other principal purpose is to provide maintenance and operations personnel with monitoring and data acquisition functions that allow them to view and diagnose all airfield lighting equipment, in particular the 170 constant-current regulators (CCRs) that power the airfield circuits.


Liberty customized the new system to YVR's specific airfield layout. Before installing the ALCMS, the company installed its FAA L-827 Distributed Control and Monitoring Units (DCMU) on the 90 CCRs in the north vault and the 80 CCRs in the south vault. As the physical interface between the ALCMS and the CCRs, the DCMUs monitor and/or calculate roughly 30 electrical parameters for each CCR they control and relay that information to the maintenance department's ALCMS workstations.

The DCMUs are networked to the ALCMS with redundant 100 MB Ethernet interfaces. Unlike the old system, which used discrete control wiring, the new system's Ethernet fiber optic cables are not susceptible to electrical interference. In addition, they improve reliability and can transmit far more information, explain Liberty officials.

YVR's new system includes three touch-screen workstations for maintenance personnel: one in the north vault, one in the south vault and one in the maintenance offices. Air traffic controllers have two 20-inch touch screens and the four 10-inch tablets - one per active controller. "We worked very closely with Nav Canada," Rufenacht explains. "This was very much about giving them a system they wanted."

"Nav Canada felt the dedicated stop bar control tablets would make the controllers more efficient and less distracted," adds Gordon.

Transport Canada requires that ALCMSs be able to monitor every light associated with the SMGCS. To effect this, Liberty modified and upgraded nearly 60 CCRs and replaced the 600 inset and elevated stop bar lights and taxiway centerline inset lights the SMGCS controls. "The intelligence to be able to tell if the LED is burned out is built into the Liberty system. We need to know the second one of these lights is not operating as it should." Rufenacht notes.

YVR continued to use its old ALCMS as Liberty installed the replacement. Stakeholders operated the new system in parallel with the old one for several weeks until they were satisfied that all was functioning correctly. On the day of the switchover, Liberty connected the redundant Ethernet cables (already in place) to take over control of the CCRs and de-energized the existing system. The airport has operated with its new ALCMS ever since.


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