In the world of aviation, safety is paramount. Every detail, from aircraft design to runway construction, is meticulously engineered to ensure the well-being of passengers, crew, and aircraft. Among the innovations that contribute to aviation safety, frangibility is a concept that has transformed airfield lighting structures. Here is an exploration of the origins of frangibility and its profound impact on the evolution of airfield lighting structures.

The early days: Rigid structures and safety concerns

In the early days of aviation, airfield lighting was a very new concept. Basic lighting structures were rigid and made from materials such as steel or concrete. While these structures provided essential visibility for pilots during takeoffs and landings, they posed a significant safety concern. In the event of a collision or overshooting the runway, these rigid structures could cause catastrophic damage to aircraft. This endangered both human lives and airfield assets.

The catalyst for change: Learning from tragic incidents

The catalyst for change often arises from tragic incidents that highlight the urgent need for innovation. Several high-profile accidents in aviation history emphasised the dangers posed by rigid lighting structures. 1967 saw a collision between a Douglas DC-8 and a Cessna 310 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. This served as a stark reminder of the risks involved in aviation. It became evident a new approach was needed to enhance airfield safety and mitigate the potential consequences of such accidents.

The emergence of frangibility: A paradigm shift in airfield lighting

The concept of frangibility emerged as a transformative solution to address the safety concerns associated with rigid lighting structures. Frangibility involves designing structures that yield, break, or collapse upon impact. This minimises damage to aircraft and reduces the risk of injury. The pioneering engineers and designers recognised that frangibility was not just about preventing accidents. It was about redefining the very nature of airfield lighting to prioritise safety above all else.

The evolution of frangible airfield lighting structures

As the aviation industry embraced the concept of frangibility, a new era of airfield lighting structures began to unfold. Engineers explored innovative materials, such as fibreglass (fiberglass) and composite materials, that possessed the desired combination of strength and flexibility. These materials allowed for the creation of frangible lighting poles and masts. They needed to withstand the rigours of aviation operations while yielding under impact.

Regulatory changes and standardisation

The recognition of frangibility’s significance led to changes in regulations and the establishment of industry standards. Aviation authorities around the world, including the ICAO and FAA, incorporated frangibility requirements into their guidelines. These mandated the use of frangible lighting structures in critical areas near runways, taxiways, and approach paths. This marked a crucial step towards enhancing airfield safety on a global scale.

Sydney Airport Approach Masts

Looking back on the evolution

The origins of frangibility are rooted in a commitment to aviation safety and a determination to learn from past mistakes. The evolution of airfield lighting structures from rigid to frangible stands as a testament to human ingenuity and the capacity to adapt and improve. Today, frangibility is an integral part of airfield design and operation. This reflects the aviation industry’s unwavering dedication to ensuring the safety of every flight.

How can Pollite help you?

At Pollite, we are excited to be a part of the future of frangible structures in aviation lighting. We are a global leader in the manufacture and supply of frangible masts for the aviation industry. All our masts are fully ICAO and FAA approved for frangibility. Masts have also been tested to ensure compliance with deflection, wind speed, UV and salt spray requirements. Contact us for more information and to discuss your project requirements.

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