ights at airport terminal buildings

Lighting Design of Airport Terminal Buildings

In public transportation, transportation buildings serve as exchange points, the “gateways” to communities, cities, and even the country. Airports serve as a base for the safe take-off and landing of aircraft and a distribution point for passengers and cargo.

In airports, the terminal buildings are the most prominent structures. Lights at terminals are designed to provide functional lighting during passenger check-in, security, waiting, and boarding. Light should not be direct or glaring; reflection from lamps should be minimal, and signs should be clearly visible at the terminal. To guide pedestrians, make use of lighting layout, color, and brightness changes. Lights also enhance visual perception of airport architectural features, enhance passengers’ experiences, and improve the comfort of airport staff.

Therefore, airport lighting design is crucial. Here, we will see what kind of light is appropriate for different parts of the terminal.

ights at airport terminal buildings

Lighting demands for terminal buildings based on environmental factors

Airports arrange more service space and more comfortable waiting areas since air passengers value cozy surroundings. As opposed to ground transportation, air passengers’ luggage must be transported centrally. This results in the need to set up special places for checking baggage and picking up baggage in the terminal building. In addition, the terminal buildings are often set up with customs, quarantine, and border inspection departments due to the need for passengers to enter and exit.

(1) The departure and arrival halls of the terminal building are usually designed as tall and large spaces, so the ceiling should be lit adequately to provide a bright and uniform illumination environment.

(2) In the lobby, there is a large screen and a CRT display for flight information. As a result, lighting systems should avoid high brightness and direct light beams that can affect the display. At the same time, it is necessary to avoid the reflection of glare on the display surface caused by light fixtures with a larger light-emitting surface.

ights at airport terminal buildings
lights at airport terminal buildings

(3) The counters that handle all procedures including boarding should be set up with accent lighting.

(4) The lighting environment is required to be soft and uniform and try to avoid glare and flicker.

(5) The terminal building usually has various stores and catering services, and the lighting standard in this area should be slightly higher than that of the lobby to attract passengers to come in and spend money.

(6) The lighting of places such as security inspection, entry management, health and quarantine and customs should not only be bright and uniform, but should also try to avoid shadows that hinder inspection.

(7) To accommodate multiple layer vertical traffic, there will be atriums at the airport and some vertical traffic lanes. In this part of the area, often due to the large net height and difficulty in installing lamps, it is necessary to consider using indirect lighting or arranging certain effect lighting on the ceiling or vertical surface. 

(8) The terminal building needs to be operated continuously for a long time or even 24 hours. Therefore, it is necessary to fully consider the energy-saving operation of the lighting system, the effective use of natural light, and measures to extend the service life of light fixtures.

Four lighting methods

At present, the large-space lighting of terminal buildings at home and abroad generally uses direct lighting, indirect lighting, direct plus indirect lighting, and natural lighting.

Direct lighting consists of several lighting fixtures arranged on the ceiling, and a good brightness distribution and uniformity of illuminance can be obtained indoors. The light source used has high power and high luminous efficiency. When using direct lighting, pay attention to anti-glare.

Indirect lighting is also called reflected lighting, which refers to the lighting effect that lamps or light sources do not directly cast light on objects, but are reflected by walls, ceilings, etc. Indirect lighting is a kind of diversified artistic lighting. If the lamp is installed in a proper position and at a proper angle, people can see the light but not the light source (that is, no glare), and the light produced is uniform and soft. When the reflectivity of the ceiling is high, the utilization rate of the light is high, and the power loss is small. Although this kind of lighting creates better comfort, its light efficiency is relatively low compared to direct lighting.

Mixed lighting combined with direct and indirect lighting can increase the illuminance of the work area, reduce shadows and spots on the work surface, obtain higher illuminance on the vertical and inclined surfaces, reduce the total power of lighting facilities, and save energy. Terminal lighting can use indirect lighting to express the shape and style of the building structure and use direct lighting to supplement and complete functional lighting.

Natural lighting refers to the design of the size of the doors and windows and the structure of the building so that the interior of the building gets the right amount of light. The energy consumption of airports is very large, so when doing lighting design, in addition to ensuring the use of artificial light, it is also necessary to make full use of natural light to ensure that the indoor environment is more natural and can save energy.

Lighting designs at different parts of airport terminal

Departure hall

ights at airport terminal buildings

The entrance and exit of a large airport are usually designed as a tall space, so the ceiling should be equipped with necessary lighting. Departure halls are usually large in size. Passengers need to check flight information, check-in procedures, check luggage, etc., and require a bright and uniform lighting environment. As a super-large transportation hub, the airport terminal must not only pay attention to the visual experience of passengers, but also ensure that the logo of each building in each area of the airport always has the best recognizability.

Use high-power lights to directly cast light on the ceiling with a certain reflectance, supplemented by wall-mounted lamps or column lamps to enhance the lower lighting, forming a diffuse reflection three-dimensional light environment dominated by reflected light, which can effectively improve the lighting Uniformity and reduction of shadow area.

Out of energy-saving considerations, in recent years, it has tended to combine direct and reflected lighting. It is recommended to use top lighting and side wall lighting to work together to form a multi-level and three-dimensional space lighting effect. Direct lighting fixtures need to consider aesthetics and ease of maintenance and repair, and fully consider the arrangement and installation of the fixtures. Lighting design needs to weigh the needs of lighting functionality, aesthetics, comfort, and other aspects at the same time, and it is best to have high-efficiency energy-saving effects. Good lighting design is to ensure the illuminance and highlight the characteristics of the airport.

The counters for check-in procedures and checked baggage services should be equipped with accent lighting. Generally, LED linear lamps with a uniform and soft light-emitting surface can be set on the top of the table, and the illuminance and color rendering should meet the requirements.

The counters for check-in procedures and checked baggage services should be equipped with accent lighting. Generally, LED linear lamps with a uniform and soft light-emitting surface can be set on the top of the table, and the illuminance and color rendering should meet the requirements.

Because it is on the top floor, and for the consideration of energy saving and space experience, many departure halls are equipped with skylights for natural lighting. Therefore, when lighting design, it is necessary to combine natural lighting analysis to carry out lighting arrangement, circuit division and control system design.

Security check

The security check channel should use direct lighting. It is recommended to choose LED flat lights or LED luminous film lamps to be evenly arranged above the place to ensure bright and uniform light. Diffuse light helps to eliminate shadows and facilitate inspection. The counter should be equipped with accent lighting, and it is advisable to choose lamps with uniform and soft luminous surface without glare, such as LED linear lamps. The direct lighting of the security inspection channel should be a surface light source. Reflected lighting is less efficient, and it is difficult to ensure the illuminance of the work surface. It is best to keep the ceiling height reasonable, and the ceiling lighting should be using surface light sources. The light spacing should not be too great, and the lighting layout should be concise, orderly, and logical.

Waiting lounge

In the waiting hall, a light source of medium color temperature can be used to form a quiet and soft light environment through reflected lighting to ease the mood of passengers. If the ceiling-reflected lighting method is used, the ratio of its brightness to the average brightness of other surfaces should not be less than 1:5 to ensure the brightness contrast of the overall environment.

It is advisable to set up lighting for passengers to read and other visual tasks in the rest area of the terminal (the area where seats are set), but attention should be paid to control glare and coordinate with the overall lighting environment.

In the passenger travel area of the terminal, the continuity of lighting needs to be considered, and the average illuminance can be slightly higher than that of the rest area to enhance the guidance of the area. The surface brightness of the lamps in the line of sight of passengers should be controlled, and the glare limit should be ensured to meet the requirements.

Ceiling lamps can adopt direct lighting, indirect lighting, and direct and indirect lighting methods, which need to be combined with the characteristics of the ceiling and combined with the ceiling shape ingeniously. At the same time, the luminaire layout should be concise, orderly, and logical.

Customs inspection

International airports usually have entry management, health and quarantine and customs inspections. The lighting methods and lighting requirements of these places are basically similar to those of the security inspection channels. There must be sufficient illuminance to support the functional operation of the area. Generally, surface light sources are used for lighting. The luminaires are arranged in a simple, orderly, and logical manner, and shadows are eliminated as much as possible. Low-power LED floodlights can be used in places with higher ceilings

Baggage claim

ights at airport terminal buildings

The baggage claim area generally adopts direct lighting, and a more effective way is to install the lamps directly above the baggage carousel in accordance with its shape. At the same time, to facilitate passengers to identify the luggage quickly, the light source with good color rendering performance should be used.

Arrival hall

After the passengers leave or pass through the baggage claim hall, they enter the arrival hall directly. At this time, both the passengers and the pick-ups are in the process of eagerly identifying their faces. Therefore, the following measures should be taken at the exit of the baggage claim hall.

(1) Reduce the brightness contrast when the baggage claim hall is used as the background.

(2) Pay attention to limit the glare in the exit direction.

Light maintenance at airports

ights at airport terminal buildings

The terminal building is different from conventional civil buildings, usually the building height will be relatively high. It is necessary to consider the needs of future maintenance and repair in the setting of lamps and lanterns. There are the following three types of maintenance methods in tall spaces:

(1) A maintenance channel is installed in the suspended ceiling, and maintenance personnel can pass to each lamp. The lamp itself will be equipped with limit buckles and booms during installation to facilitate maintenance.

(2) In large spaces where maintenance channel cannot be set up, heavy lifting machinery can be used to reach lamps. Conventionally, they are spider carts (the maximum installation height of lamps is 30m) and a lifting platform (the maximum installation height of lamps is 16m).

(3) The lamp itself is equipped with a lifting motor, which is usually used in the space where the clear height between the lamp installation surface and the ground does not exceed 15 m.


The airport terminal is a relatively unique indoor space combining various functions such as transportation hub, security checkpoint, and business leisure. In addition to its great size, many functions, and complexity, it is an important window that portrays the city’s image.

The lighting design of the terminal needs to consider at least four aspects: safety, functionality, comfort, and aesthetics. The article provides both an analysis of each functional area of the airport terminal as well as a comparison of the corresponding common lighting approaches. It also offers practical and realistic suggestions for improving the lighting.