US FAA to study viability of airport’s plan to adopt system to slow aircraft following fatal Southwest 737 overrun

Following last December’s runway overrun by a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700, Chicago Midway airport has proposed siting engineered materials arrester systems (EMAS) at the end of its runways. The US Federal Aviation Administration is studying the viability of the proposal.

The 737 landed on runway 31C in marginal weather conditions with a slight tailwind, on 8 December. It overran through the airport boundary fence and on to a road where it hit two cars, killing one of the occupants. There were no injuries on the aircraft.

Southwest Boeing 737-700 overshot runway w445

Southwest Airlines' Boeing 737-700 overran into a road, where it hit two cars, killing an occupant of one

As there is no space at Midway – a compact downtown airport used mainly for domestic flights by narrowbody jets – to provide the 300m (1,000ft) runway end safety area (RESA) required by the FAA, airport owner the City of Chicago is considering installing EMAS.

An EMAS is a bed of small blocks that subside beneath an aircraft’s wheels, providing rolling drag that slows the aircraft. Midway’s longest runway is 1,990m and its shortest is 1,170m.

The FAA has warned all 300 US airports that they must have a RESA for all runways by 2015. It is calling for analysis of the Midway plan to see whether the 60-90m EMAS proposed would be as effective as a RESA, which is a 300m obstacle-free paved area at the runway end that does not have to be as strong as the runway itself. The FAA wants to know if an EMAS would be effective for all aircraft types that use the downtown airport, and from what speeds they can be brought to a halt.

The estimated cost to the City of Chicago of fitting EMAS is about $40 million.

International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations president Capt Dennis Dolan says runway overruns “are the most common of accident types, with an average of four air transport category aircraft overrunning every month”.


Source: Flight International