Yeager Airport 6th in U.S. for emergency-stop system


Jan. 21--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The safe stop of a US Airways Express flight in a bed of lightweight concrete at the end of Yeager Airport's main runway on Tuesday was the sixth save nationwide for the Engineered Materials Arresting System.

Yeager is one of 28 U.S. airports that make use of an EMAS arrestor-bed system, which gives airports with terrain limitations a viable alternative to the Federal Aviation Administration's 1,000-foot overrun standard for commercial airports. An additional six airports plan to install EMAS systems by the end of this year.

EMAS systems use the same basic principle as runaway-truck ramps along steep downhill highway grades, using a bed of specially engineered concrete blocks designed to break down under an airplane's weight instead of a bed of rock and gravel.

"It did an excellent job on Tuesday," said Rick Atkinson, director of the Charleston airport, who was at a conference in Denver at the time of the US Airways Express incident.

None of the 30 passengers and three crewmembers aboard the Charlotte, N.C.-bound Canadair regional jet was injured in the aborted takeoff.

"From what I understand, the airplane was barely damaged from going through the EMAS area," Atkinson said. "Even the nose gear, which I figured would have collapsed, did not look damaged."

Personnel from ESCO Corp. of Logan Township, N.J., the manufacturer of EMAS materials, were at the Charleston airport Wednesday afternoon to determine how much material would be needed to repair the safety zone. Airport spokesman Brian Belcher said it would take several days for a detailed estimate to be prepared.

"My understanding is that the air carrier's insurance company will pay for the repairs," Atkinson said. "Their insurance carrier will work things out with our insurance company."

The 2-foot-thick, 4-by-4-foot blocks used in the arresting system cost about $1,000 each, Atkinson said.

EMAS systems have brought aircraft to safe, end-of-runway stops three times at New York's Kennedy International Airport, which is partially bounded by Jamaica Bay, making a conventional 1,000-foot overrun excessively costly.

Aircraft saved by EMAS at the New York airport include a Saab commuter aircraft in May 1999, a McDonnell-Douglas 11 cargo jet in May 2003 and a Boeing 747 cargo jet in January 2005.

In July 2006, a three-engine Dassault Mystere Falcon 900 corporate jet was safely brought to a halt in an EMAS bed at Greenville Downtown Airport in South Carolina. In October 2006, New York Yankees third baseman Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez's private Gulfstream II jet was brought to a stop in an EMAS area at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif. And an Air Mexicana Airbus with 130 passengers aboard was stopped at the end of a runway at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in July 2008.

The EMAS system at Yeager cost about $5 million to install, but it should cost considerably less to repair. Atkinson said repairs to the Greenville airport's EMAS zone totaled about $170,000.

"Of course, a smaller aircraft was involved at Greenville," he said. "We won't know what our repair cost will be until the ESCO people complete an assessment."