How many of you know what EMAS is? I can guarantee that the 34 people on a US Airways Express jet in Charleston West Virginia now are intimately familiar with it. It prevented them from plunging off a mountain. This mountain. Seriously.
EMAS stands for Engineered Material Arresting System – a name only the government could love. Think of it like a runaway truck ramp. You know what I’m talking about. When you’re coming down a mountain and you see those gravel strips on the side where trucks can go if their brakes fail? (For those of you in the Midwest, a mountain is something you’ve probably seen on TV.) But EMAS stops airplanes, not trucks, so it requires some more strength.
You will find an EMAS in 28 airports today; the first was installed at JFK in 1996. How do they pick the airports? Airports in the US are required to have overruns called runway safety areas (RSA) that are 1,000 feet long and 500 feet wide, at least. (Many advocate for more.) There’s only one problem. Many airports were built before these rules went into place, so they don’t have the room. Those airports have been getting EMAS.
Remember the Southwest flight the went off the runway and parked at a gas station in Burbank in 2000? By 2002, Burbank had an EMAS. And that brings us to our buddies at Charleston, West Virginia, better known by many as Charlie West. Charlie West sits on a mountain (as you saw above), and in 2007, the feds decided it might be a good idea to keep planes from sliding off the end. Good thing they did.
Earlier this week, a US Airways Express 50 seat regional jet operated by wholly-owned PSA Airlines rejected its takeoff. It couldn’t stop quickly enough and it ended up off the runway. Thanks to EMAS, the plane didn’t plunge off the end of the runway. Brian Belcher and the rest of the team at Charlie West have been doing an excellent job of keeping people up to date via Twitter and Facebook. (I wrote about Charleston’s expert use of social media on BNET.) They posted this picture:
Holy crap. Now, the plane has been moved, the airport is back to normal operations, and all they need to do now is fix the EMAS so it can do its job once again. Talk about a great invention.