Ottawa

Pilots call for airport runway safety system

A crushable concrete system at the end of runways can slow planes dramatically and should be mandatory at all Canadian airports, according to the chair of the Air Canada Pilots Association's safety division.

A crushable concrete system at the end of runways can slow planes dramatically and should be mandatory at all Canadian airports, the chair of the Air Canada Pilots Association's safety division says.

Barry Wiszniowski said the safety measure, called an engineered material arresting system, or EMAS, could have prevented the mishap at Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier International Airport on Wednesday.

A Trans States Airlines Embraer 145 aircraft with 36 people on board, operating as part of United Airlines Express, touched down Wednesday afternoon on a wet runway and was unable to stop quickly enough. It cleared the runway and wound up nose down in a grassy ditch about 500 feet from the landing strip. Two crew members and one passenger were treated for minor injuries.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the incident and is not expected to release a full report on the causes until at least six months from now.

Earlier this year, however, the safety board placed runway overruns on its watch list of potential air safety problems across the country.

"Airports need to lengthen the safety areas at the end of runways or install other engineered systems and structures to safely stop planes that overrun," the safety board said in March.

Wiszniowski said an engineered system has the advantage of taking up less space than a runway that has simply been extended.

Engineered systems are typically created using lightweight, crushable concrete that gives way under the weight of the plane, slowing it down safely.

"If there would be an excursion [past the main runway] it would be like driving into a sandbox," Wiszniowski said. "The blocks of the engineered material arresting system absorb some of the energy and momentum of the aircraft, bringing it basically to a stop in the designated area."

Similar to 2004 mishap

Wednesday's incident was similar to a runway mishap six years ago on the same runway involving the same regional airliner.

On July 14, 2004, a Trans States Airlines plane, also an Embraer 145 aircraft but operating on behalf of US Airways Express, ran off runway 07/25 and came to a rest 300 feet from the landing strip.

Neither plane had thrust reversers to help it decelerate quickly. Thrust reversers are optional on this type of aircraft.

In the earlier case, the Transportation Safety Board ruled the flight came in high and fast and the flight crew was slow to react to the plane's lack of deceleration.

The TSB also said the flight's smooth landing contributed to the aircraft hydroplaning on touchdown. As with Wednesday's incident, it was raining that day. No one was injured in the 2004 accident.

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