The Airport has employed solar powered runway lighting (circa late 1990s) and mains powered PAPIs (circa 1981), to facilitate night and poor weather operations, both of which were showing their age. In late 2016 the activation system for the runway lights and the PAPI system failed necessitating all lights to be individually activated. Parts for the old systems were no longer available, and slowly the systems were becoming unsupportable and very unreliable. In addition, the airport did not have approach lighting which, in an area completely devoid of any artificial lights to use as reference points for night approaches, posed significant risks to night operations. The regular air service provider avoided night flying wherever possible and the air ambulance service flatly refused to operate at night unless there were significantly compelling reasons to do so and the weather condition guaranteed a clear night.
Access to Chatham Island is extremely challenging, with access being only via 4-6 flights per week from New Zealand, or a ship only every 6-10 weeks. Due to the challenging location, maintenance of the lights needs to be minimal and able to be carried out locally.
Along with the freight and maintenance issues, the lighting needed to be replaced immediately, but the potential future runway extension will need to include additional lights that will have to be integrated at a later date and the approach lighting will have to be relocated.
The AV-426 are an ideal choice in a remote location as they are independent and solar powered. By being standalone and communicating by a self-realizing and self-maintaining mesh network, lights can be added, removed or relocated as required without the system needing to be shut down and without major groundworks costs typically associated with the upgrade of an AGL system. With the integration of a Pilot Activated Lighting Controller, it removes the responsibility of activating the lighting from the ground crew and gives the pilots control. However, there is a need for the ground crew to be able to activate the lights in an emergency, by as simple means as possible. Additional requirements included an aerodrome beacon to attract the eye of a pilot unfamiliar with the area (for example Life Flight on an emergency Medevac) and a warning beacon to indicate that there is less than 10 minutes remaining before the airfield lights are extinguished. This combination of requirements led to the design of a control box, which integrated the PALC, warning and aerodrome beacons, and simple manual on/off and intensity control.
Reid Technology also provided the solar system for the PAPIs, along with a containerised workshop powered by solar to facilitate ongoing maintenance.