Opened in February of 1944, the Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) campus resides on over 7,600 acres of land in the City of Chicago, IL. Previously known as “Orchard Field,” the Chicago City Council gave the name Chicago O’Hare, in 1949, to honor naval aviator Lieutenant Commander Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, a Medal of Honor recipient from Chicago.
ORD gained notoriety during the jet age and became known as the busiest airport from 1963 to 1998. Today, O’Hare is the second busiest airport in the world, according to Simple Flying.
A principle operating philosophy of Chicago O’Hare is to ensure a safe and efficient journey for all travelers by implementing continuous modernization projects that streamline the passenger experience. It is important to note that these improvements can bring along unexpected challenges that require a unique solution.
Chicago O’Hare required a safe and field-proven lighting solution that would allow them the flexibility to easily open and change taxiway geometries for more than 12 airfield construction projects. Over various improvement projects, the lights would need to meet either the L861T or L863B FAA performance specifications.
Self-contained, solar LED fixtures provide the versatility to quickly and safely deploy without the additional power and communication cabling found with traditional airfield lights. With the added benefits of reduced and simplified maintenance activities, solar lighting was the clear choice. However, the lights would first need to go through several tests, under various weather conditions, as part of ORD’s in-depth evaluation.
Chicago O’Hare began the research and evaluation stages in the summer of 2019 for innovative technology to replace the time consuming ‘can and conduit’ method of temporary taxiway edge lighting. Can and conduit is a temporary lighting method used by O’Hare for years. It consists of placing 4” base cans bolted to the pavement surface with 1” conduit between each can. The secondary cable is fed through the conduit to then power each light fixture. Solar lighting eliminates the need for cabling and large base cans and reduces the time and man-power required to deploy.
After the initial investigation began, Chicago O’Hare discovered the AV-70-B and AV-70-863 solar taxiway edge lights, manufactured by Avlite Systems, provided the ideal solution that met all their requirements. The combination of these two solar lights met the requirements for L861T and L863B performance specifications and offered the flexibility to easily open and change taxiway geometries.
After the in-depth evaluation was complete, O’Hare Taxiway “ZJ” Package B construction project was the first to use the Avlite solar lights, on the “T” Taxiway. Approximately twenty AV-70-863-B solar lights were purchased for the initial construction project, with 500 additional lights purchased for similar projects over the following years. According to George Vickas, Managing Director at ASSET LLC, “The airport has had remarkable success with the solar lights as they provided nearly identical vibrancy and luminosity to the powered LED taxiway lights and have been used on several construction projects since.”
George goes on to say that the “installation of the light to both concrete and asphalt surface is very simple using basic concrete attachment bolts, making re-alignment of lights very easy.”
Avlite Systems, working closely with the O’Hare Airfield Electrical Department, provided the custom, self-contained solar AV-70 taxiway edge light to rapidly realign taxiways and reduce operational downtime. George Vickas states, “Solar lights, as compared to hardwired lights, allowed us to very quickly re-align taxiways in the overnight hours and have them open to air traffic in the morning with taxiway lights. This ability has allowed O’Hare to continue with significant construction of our taxiways and provide safe taxi routes for aircraft.” O’Hare has used over 500 solar lights on the airfield to date with many more planned improvement projects in the near future.
“To ensure we can meet traffic demands in all seasons and keep as many taxi routes available as possible, the most efficient, safest, and proven option for O’Hare International Airport is to continue with the use of temporary solar taxiway edge lights.”