Cleveland: Hopkins airport 'runway' extension short but mighty

11:12 AM, Nov 23, 2011   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- A new safety feature at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is something airport leaders hope they never have to use.

It's called EMAS, short for "emergency materials arresting system." It's an extension of Hopkins' shortest runway, which is about 6,100 feet,and  made of concrete-foam blocks.

The blocks have serious stopping power. If a pilot decides it's better not to take off and applies the brakes, that power, in addition to the blocks' strength, will decelerate the plane. It's also prevention if a pilot over- or undershoots a runway.

The last time a plane overshot the runway at Hopkins was back in 2007. It went off the runway into the area by NASA. Had the EMAS been in place, it would have prevented such serious damage to the plane and surrounding area.

Airport Commissioner Fred Szabo says that, since the 1980's, there have been 23 fatalities involving these types of accidents.

One was a little boy in a car on the road which was near the runway.

"It's a fact of life. Unfortunately, there are approximately ten overruns or undershoots a year, according to the FAA," Szabo explained.

The end of the new EMAS at Hopkins is a little less than 80 feet from the fence that separates State Route 237 and the road that leads to the airport.

While this project extends stopping power in strength, it doesn't add much to the overall runway length of 6,100 feet. The other two runways at Hopkins are in the 9,000 to 10,000 feet range.

Renato Camacho, chief of Planning & Engineering at Cleveland Airport System, says the portion near the airport entrance road is roughly about 275 feet long by 75 feet.

The portion at the Western end by NASA is roughly 365 feet by 70 feet. The runway, which has been closed for EMAS construction, will reopen in mid-December.

"This is the shortest runway of the three that we have and, given the site constraints, depending on the way the winds change on a given day, we may have to be using this runway more often than not," Camacho said.

Airfield crews have had special training to maintain the EMAS, especially when it comes to snow.

"We hope we never have to use it, just maintain it," Camacho said.

Szabo says EMAS has proven successful every time it's been used across the nation.

A few years ago, a problem with plane wheels forced a pilot to make a last minute decision to stay on the ground at Yeager Airport in in Charleston, West Virginia.

34 people were on board the flight, bound for Charlotte.

The plane stopped just feet before it would have gone off the side of the mountain.  Passengers were scared but everyone was okay. The pilot started breaking long before he hit the EMAS but the plane was stopped in its tracks.

Once damaged, the EMAS blocks need to be replaced.

In the case of Yeager's damaged EMAS, the runway was still safe and usable without the EMAS. It just serves as an added layer of protection.

The FAA is changing requirements for runway lengths. The modifications must be made by 2015.

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