Yeager Engineered Materials Arresting System repairs to begin next week


Jan. 28--Read about lessons learned from incident critique

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Repairs to Yeager Airport's EMAS safety area, damaged last Tuesday during the aborted takeoff of a US Airways regional jet, are expected to begin next week and take only about five nights to complete.

In a conference call with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., during a Wednesday meeting of the Charleston airport's board of directors, airport director Rick Atkinson said three tractor-trailer loads of cellular concrete blocks used in the Engineered Materials Arresting System would be delivered next week.

It should take about four nights to prepare the end-of-runway site for the installation of the 440 specially designed blocks needed to repair the damaged area. "Then, the first dry and not-too-cold night we get, the blocks will go in," Atkinson said.

Repairs to the runway arresting system will be done at night to avoid interfering with Yeager's commercial air schedule.

The US Airways Express aircraft, destined for Charlotte, N.C., with 31 passengers and three crew members aboard, skidded 1,927 feet down the runway and then traveled 128 feet into the EMAS arresting bed before coming to a safe stop after its pilot aborted takeoff.

The reason for aborting the flight has yet to be released. Several passengers aboard the aircraft said the flight crew announced that an activated cockpit warning light prompted the interruption of the takeoff.

"This story had a happy ending," board president R. Edison Hill told Rockefeller and board members. "Thirty-four lives were unquestionably saved" by the two-year-old EMAS system, he said. "Without it, the aircraft would have gone off the mountaintop and the story would have had an entirely different ending."

No one was injured in the incident. The only apparent damage to the 50-passenger Canadair regional jet was a torn landing gear door. The aircraft was flown to Bridgeport where it is undergoing inspection.

Rockefeller said Federal Aviation Administration administrator J. Randolph Babbitt "is very interested in your EMAS system. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes a look at it himself."

Atkinson said FAA personnel have been at the scene of the incident to gather data on how real-life stopping power of the system compares with its manufacturer's computer modeling of its capabilities.

Earlier this week, Rockefeller had helped hammer out an agreement through which the FAA, if needed, would front the $700,000 needed for repairs in advance of an insurance settlement. But Atkinson said US Airways' insurance carrier has worked quickly to process the claim for the EMAS damage and has agreed to pay for next week's repairs.

New bridge over Elk

In other matters Wednesday, Atkinson told board members that the planning process is underway for a new road that would use a new Elk River bridge to enter Coonskin Park and access the Air and Army National Guard facilities, now accessed via narrow, winding Coonskin Drive.

"Right now, there are 14 route alternatives being considered," he said.

"We're in the process of working with the Economic Development Authority to come up with a development plan" for commercial sites adjacent to the road, said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. They include two parcels of flat land totaling about 10 acres along the Elk River side of the airport created during its runway extension work.

"I would even like to look at dredging the Elk River for a dock," Carper said. With nearby interstate highway access, the dock and recently restored rail service through a portion of Coonskin Park, Carper said the new development qualifies for designation as a "transpark," the name initially given to a proposed and now dead Huntington-Charleston regional airport.

Carper said a $500,000 planning grant is being sought for the road and development sites along its path -- which won't include land in Coonskin Park.

"We've met with Gov. Manchin, Congresswoman [Shelley] Capito and representatives from Senator [Robert C.] Byrd and Senator Rockefeller's offices," said Carper. "I think it's a great opportunity, and I think it's going to happen within the next 18 months to two years."

In other airport-related economic development news, the board voted to seek proposals from natural gas producers interested in drilling on undeveloped airport property.

One producer already interested in the airport told airport officials that four wells drilled into the Marcellus shale formation underlying the airport land could reasonably be expected to generate $10,000 each annually.

Board member Priscilla Haden was the lone board member to vote against the proposal, citing environmental concerns associated with such drilling.

Finally, the board voted to keep parking meters out of the newly refurbished metered parking area near the terminal building entrance. While the meters bring in about $45,000 annually, converting the lot to a free, 20-minute parking area is expected to reduce the number of drivers parking illegally along the curb directly outside the terminal's doors. The board authorized Atkinson to raise fines for those illegally parking from the current $5 to up to $100.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at or 304-348-5169.