Croatia’s Split airport uses ABB technology to keep the lights on and the flights landing

2014-01-21 - Manual switches thrown out in favor of remote terminal units to reduce downtime and improve power reliability

Split is a major tourist destination in Croatia and its airport handles more than 1.5 million passengers every year. Reliable power supplies are an absolute must. Photo credit: enjosmith (posted on Flickr)

A power outage at Split airport, Croatia, used to mean telephoning for instructions and throwing manual switches on site, a process which routinely took 10 minutes or more. But with a couple of RTUs (remote terminal units) in place, that time is down to less than three seconds, so the lights can stay on and the flights keep landing.

Split is one of Croatia’s biggest airports, handling more than one and a half million passengers every year. It was built in 1966 and expanded rapidly, getting its first substation in 1979. That was joined by a second 10kV station in 1983, with the pair taking power from two feeders and diesel generators as backup, all under manual control.

The airport all but closed in 1991, as Croatia was born out of the former Yugoslavia, but has been building up since hostilities ended. In 2007, the passenger numbers topped pre-war records and they’ve continued growing ever since.

The paired substations take their supply from two nearby feeds, but aren’t configured and designed for permanent parallel supply, so if the primary fails then the staff have to call up the regional controller to see whether the backup is available, and manually switch to on-site generators, if necessary.

The generators are fast enough – the first runs up to speed within seven seconds and two more kicking in, in less than half a minute, but that process doesn’t start until a human throws the switch, or at least it didn’t until a pair of ABB RTUs were given the job.

A complete refit of both substations was completed by local engineering company KONCAR, who are using two ABB RTU540s to monitor the supply, and make decisions about switching, without the inevitable delays imposed by human consultation.

The RTUs monitor supply from both feeds, and are able to switch between them as required, or use the on-site generators when necessary. The RTUs are connected, using optical Ethernet, to the regional office which can now monitor conditions at the airport without having to get local staff on the phone.

That means a power outage, which would have frozen the airport for more than an hour, can now be cleared in less than three seconds, so only the most observant of passengers will notice any change before operations are back to normal.

According to KONCAR, Split airport had 29 unplanned outages between 2006 and 2011, with an average length of 76 minutes (those less than three minutes aren’t logged), which is more than enough to justify the investment in ABB automation. The contractors reckon the new system will cut outage time in half at least, not to mention turning those sub-three-minute outages into blips unnoticed by the travelling public.

Split promotes itself as a tourist destination; on the shores of the Adriatic with an amenable climate and Roman construction dating from the fourth century, it has every reason to do so. But tourists have little patience with unreliable transport, and a busy airport is less able to cope with interruptions, which is why ABB’s kit will be watching to make sure the lights in Split stay on time, all the time.

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    Photo credit: Aero Icarus (posted on Flickr)
    Split is one of Croatia’s biggest airports, handling more than one and a half million passengers every year. Photo credit: Aero Icarus (posted on Flickr)
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