How high is up?

ABB Furse uses enough copper to reach space to protect Hong Kong International Airport area from lightning


How much ABB Furse copper tape does it take to protect a major airport from lightning?

About enough to run tape from sea level to the top of Mt. Everest a dozen times, if a recent expansion contract at the Hong Kong International Airport is any indication. And more may be coming in the future.

Hong Kong International Airport sits within five air hours of half the world’s population.

Since it relocated to a large artificial island built near the city in 1998, it has become the eighth busiest airport in the world, handling 70.5 million passengers in 2016 alone. Officials expect that it will be able to serve 30 million additional passengers annually by 2030, once a third runway is added to the current two-runway system.

As part of its preparation for the third runway expansion, Airport Authority Hong Kong solicited bids in 2015 for Contract P568 — the construction of a midfield area with 34 aircraft parking stands along with aviation fuel storage, power and utility services, a taxiway, taxi lanes, airside roads and ancillary buildings.

There was one wrinkle with the project: Hong Kong sits in one of the world’s heaviest bands of lightning strikes. More than 10,000 cloud-to-ground strikes were recorded during a single 12-hour period on July 9, 2016, for example — a record number, but still an example of what can happen.

So lightning protection is a significant consideration in any major work done on the massive airport.

Enter the team from ABB Furse.

Furse designs and produces lightning protection systems for large buildings and complexes. The work can be complicated and must be custom-designed for any project as large as the HKIA midfield area. But broken down to its elemental basics, Furse lightning protection uses metal terminals to attract lightning strikes before they can hit a structure, connected to a mesh of copper tape to funnel the charges safely to the earth —a classic Faraday cage approach.

In the Hong Kong Midfield Apron Development Works project, Furse will use an estimated 100 kilometers of copper tape to build proper protection — enough, if run in a line, to reach the top of Mt. Everest 12 times from sea level, or to reach beyond the highest clouds recorded on Earth.

In fact, international scientists generally agree that the Earth’s atmosphere effectively ends at about 100,000 meters. So it could be said that lightning protection at Hong Kong International’s midfield will require enough copper tape to reach space.

Lightning protection and grounding equipment accounted for about $900,000 of the total contract ABB won to help construct the midfield grounds. ABB’s Electrical Products division chipped in with another $600,000 worth of low-voltage equipment, including circuit breakers, switchgear and line protection devices.

ABB Furse lightning protection

Infographic – What does it take to protect an airport?

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About the author

David Fisher

David Fisher is a content writer for the Electrical Installations Business Unit. He enjoys telling the stories of ABB’s work around the world, along with seafood, travel, and walking in Memphis.
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