It is the aviation industry's equivalent of a runaway truck lane.
A collapsible foam concrete barrier, called "airplane flypaper," will soon be installed at Newark Liberty International Airport. As with runaway truck lanes, which stop out-of-control tractor trailers with huge sand-filled plastic barrels, the goal of the airport system is simple: Slow down planes in a hurry.
"It will provide an additional level of safety in case of an aircraft overrun," said Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that operates Newark Liberty, are expected to authorize $14.9 million today to install the system at the end of the airport's shortest runway.
Essentially, the airplane flypaper, formally known as foam arrestor beds, are foam cement blocks filled with a high percentage of air. The blocks, which are installed on a slight incline, allow the wheels of a plane to gently sink and slow by creating drag that eventually stops the aircraft. The system - several hundred feet long - is also designed to keep a plane's wheel assemblies from buckling.
The system at Newark will be able to stop planes that are moving at up to 80 mph. The system is designed to stop planes that either abort takeoff or overshoot the runway on landing.
Once funding is approved, improvements will be made to the western end of Runway 29, which is the airport's shortest at a mere 6,800 feet. The FAA mandated the special barrier because there is not a required 1,000-foot buffer zone at the end of Runway 29, Peters said.
A feasibility study by the Port Authority to install a similar braking system at the runway's eastern end, closest to the New Jersey Turnpike, also is pending.
Also today, the agency's board of directors plans to approve $40.7 million to install a second barrier at Teterboro Airport in Bergen County and $14.6 million for a second one at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The Teterboro project is priced much higher because it includes projected costs of moving Redneck Road to accommodate the bed.
There are 23 such arrestor bed systems in use at the nation's more than 400 commercial airports. In addition to JFK and Teterboro, there are two systems in place at LaGuardia Airport in New York.
The system at Teterboro was installed last year after a small corporate jet aborted takeoff in February 2005. The plane crashed through a fence at the end of the runway and skidded across busy Route 46 before crashing into a building on the other side of the highway. Twenty people, including several in cars on the highway, were hurt.
While the dimensions for Newark Liberty's barrier were not immediately available, those at JFK, LaGuardia and Teterboro are about 300 feet long.
Teterboro's system has reeled in one plane, while JFK's system has stopped three. The two existing arrestor beds at LaGuardia have not yet been needed, authorities said.
Repairing airplane flypaper after it stops a plane is not cheap; the last incident at JFK, in January 2005, involving an errant cargo plane, resulted in a $2.3 million bill.
Chris Grant, a professor of civil engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, said the systems have benefits and drawbacks.
"The benefit is obvious . . . The cost of meeting the . . . 1,000-foot clear zone requirement is significant," said Grant, referring to expensive purchases of buffer zones or realignment of roads.
Yet, he said, the systems are not safety panaceas.
"It's still a technology which is evolving," Grant said. "So there's questions about how fast can you safely stop an aircraft . . . It depends on the speed that planes enter the arrestor bed."
Additionally, he said, the arrestor beds can be used just once. After that, they need to be replaced.
A system of foam barriers designed to stop jets from careening off runways could be installed within the next two years at the airport, site of an accident in February that injured 20 people.
Calls for the barriers were renewed after several recent incidents at the airport, where two planes have skidded off runways and a third crashed while landing this year.
Nearly 300 U.S. commercial airports lack 1,000-foot end-of-runway margin that the government considers adequate for safety.
The Port Authority Chairman said adding an airport to the region, where 100 million people travel annually, is worth considering to meet the great demand for air travel.