For virtually their entire existence, airport taxiway lights have been the same: a “single-point” light stanchion with a simple glass cover on top that can appear as a sea of dots in the darkness. But that might soon change, according to Colorado-based Luminaerospace. The company was founded in 2010 with the idea of making LED taxiway boundary lights more distinguishable and more easily followed, especially in inclement weather.
Luminaerospace introduced its first design in 2013, which replaced the top glass cover on the light with an elongated version housing 13 LEDs on each side of the central light, arranged parallel to the taxiway, known as the pavement edge light safety system (PELSS). “Essentially you were looking at 27 lights in one fixture, but the FAA didn’t like the fact that some electronics were coming from Luminaerospace and some electronics were coming from the existing light,” said company co-founder Scott Stauffer.
They went back to the drawing board and simplified the design to incorporate two acrylic rods extending from each side. “We spent these years developing just a very inexpensive way to achieve the same result without having electronics. It's all optics,” explained Stauffer, who also serves as a private jet pilot with a major fractional operator. “It just provides an additional visual cue to the taxiway edge lights. Now you’ve got a line segment instead of a dot, and your brain can interpolate the taxiway edge boundary by the shape of the light in addition to just the light source.”
That could help in areas on the airport where pilots may have difficulty following the taxiways. “All of the airports have problem areas that the pilots call hotspots, and it's written on the airport diagram where the hotspots are,” said Stauffer. “And that’s exactly what this is designed to do, so any airport with a hotspot should try these out to see how they work.”
The new design has been tested at airports around the world, including Paris Charles de Gaulle; Canada’s Vancouver and Halifax Stanfield International Airports; Monterey Regional Airport in California; Houston-area Sugar Land Regional Airport; Maine’s Knox County Regional Airport; and Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma. “I wanted to test it in different parts of the country to make sure it holds up to the elements,” said Stauffer. Colorado’s Telluride Regional Airport reported no issues with the units, even with 200 inches of snow and the use of automatic snow removal equipment.
Luminaerospace’s fixtures meet or exceed the FAA’s specifications for taxiway lights, and last October, the agency agreed to allow their usage at U.S. airports. Stauffer told AIN the company has been working with the industry’s largest runway light manufacturers to produce form-fit cover replacements and has already integrated it with the product lines of three of the biggest LED light producers, with a fourth due soon.
The units currently retail for $33 apiece, a break-even price, according to Stauffer. Produced through a time- and technology-intensive CNC machining process, the company has been selling at low capacity to airports looking to test the equipment. But with the next major order, it will switch to U.S.-made injection molding, which will lower the production costs.
For Stauffer this is an idea whose time has more than come. "There's no reason we shouldn't have been doing this 20 years ago, the technologies existed, it's just nobody thought about incorporating [them] onto a taxiway light," he said. "Today's lights haven't changed in their basic design for 70 years and its time for an improvement."