'Lamp keeper' helps light the way for pilots

Writer:   |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-02-17

Xu Xueyi ensures the normal operation of the lighting system at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport. Photos by Feng Muyuan

Runway lights are essential for aircraft’s safe operation at airports large and small around the world. Pilots rely on the colorful, flashing lights to navigate the airport during takeoff and landing.

On the 8.84-million-square-meter airfield at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, there are more than 15,000 sets of lamps and 19 “lamp keepers” have been assigned to ensure the normal operation of the lighting system in this sprawling area that is equivalent to 1,078 soccer fields. Xu Xueyi is one of the “lamp keepers” and has been doing the same job for 32 years, going from an entry-level role onto a senior role and eventually becoming an aviation lighting specialist.

Xu Xueyi instructs his apprentice Han Hui to repair a circuit board. 

Airport lighting is nothing but red, blue, green, amber and white lights glowing and racing across the ground in the eyes of airline passengers. For Xu and his colleagues, the lights are guiding signs indicating the takeoff, taxiing and landing of an aircraft, and their colors, configurations and intensities are “languages that deliver messages.” These colored lights serve as the pilots’ “eyes” during periods of low visibility like nighttime or foggy weather, Xu told sznews.com.

According to Xu, they are required to patrol four times every 24 hours for routine checkups. Since most of the light fixtures are distributed in the runway areas, the maintenance and repair work need to be done within four hours around midnight when the runways are closed.

Xu Xueyi checks electric wires of airport lighting. 

“The routine maintenance task might be cumbersome, but there is no room for sloppiness,” Xu said. “If a screw is loose and protruding, it may scratch the tire of an airplane or be sucked into the aircraft engine, causing a plane to malfunction and deviate from the runway. A small malfunction could lead to a major accident.”

Xu said their work requires not only professional skills, but also clear minds and quick thinking when it comes to troubleshooting. As more flights arrive at the airport, the length of time that the runways and taxiways are closed gets shorter, leaving less time for maintenance work and causing the “lighting team” to frequently “race against the clock,” Xu said.

Xu Xueyi sets up a training center to pass on his skills.

To pass on his skills and experiences to his apprentices, Xu set up a training center, which was later upgraded into an innovation studio in May 2021. As more equipment are now remotely controlled, they started to learn how to operate and maintain the new systems and tried every means to come up with better, cost-effective repair options.

Rewards show on honor wall of Xu's training center.

Since 2019, Xu has led his team members to conduct research on over 20 different topics and obtained 12 utility model patents and one industrial design patent from the National Intellectual Property Administration. In 2021, Xu was awarded the title of “National Transport Technical Expert” by the Ministry of Transport.