INSIDE THE FLX: Penn Yan Airport solar lighting test (podcast)

FAA officials were at the Penn Yan Airport Wednesday to inspect its first-in-the-nation test of a solar lighting system.


The Penn Yan Airport has a traditional lighting system, but many smaller airports lack the money or infrastructure for lights powered by the electric grid. The solar lights are not being used by pilots coming into the airport, but officials at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor, New Jersey wrote a computer program that turns the lights on and off in a pattern resembling what would be seen in actual use. Actual airport lights are triggered by arriving pilots, who key their microphones to turn the lights on. Since the lights are only for test purposes, for the time being, FAA engineers went to great lengths to ensure the test lights would not interfere with normal airport operation.

The test data are collected by sensors inside the airport hangar and sent remotely to the FAA. The test lights were installed in September 2021. The data will be gathered for a year. The FAA wants to make sure the lights come on at the proper brightness and that the batteries powering them provide enough juice during periods of low sunlight. The FAA will conduct similar tests at airports in Arizona and Washington state beginning later this year.

I talked with the FAA’s Ryan King about the test and the other research being done at the Hughes Technical Center to make aviation safer and more efficient. I also visited with Yates County Legislature chair Leslie Church about the test and some of the other things happening this summer in Yates County, including the broadband rollout to underserved areas and the upgrades being made to the county’s emergency communications system.


Thanks to the folks from the FAA, county officials, and airport staff who made our visit a pleasure.

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