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Pilots to control runway lights

COVINGTON -- Beginning today, pilots flying in and out of Covington Municipal Airport will have control of runway lighting.

Previously, runway lights were left on from sunset to sunrise, but now, the city has implemented Pilot Controlled Lighting, a system that allows pilots to turn on the lights from the cockpit. Simply by clicking their radio microphone five times, pilots can activate the lights for a period of 15 minutes. The lights will flash for 15 seconds before shutting off as a warning to the pilot, who can then reactivate them if needed.

"The purpose is to save money on utilities and maintenance -- there will be less lights burning out," said Airport Engineer Vincent Passariello. During the winter months, the runway lights are typically on 12 hours a day, and that decreases to about eight hours a day during the summer. Passariello estimated the city will save about $550 a month in utilities with the new system, which costs less than $1,000.

The system is widely used at smaller airports around the country, including Gwinnett County and DeKalb-Peachtree airports and is considered very safe, Passariello said. But, "If they do fail, you just have to land somewhere else," he said.

Passariello, who is a pilot, said he's used the system many times and "99.9 percent of pilots are used to this. Very seldom do you find an airport where the lights are on all the time."