Port Authority Aviation: A Save at LaGuardia Airport

By Cheryl Albiez, Media Relations Staff

A few days before Halloween, vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence and 47 other passengers got quite the scare when their plane overshot a LaGuardia Airport runway.  Thankfully, everyone onboard escaped injury and the plane incurred no structural damage.


Photo by David Futch, LaGuardia Airport operations

What could have been a far more serious incident was prevented by special protective material at the end of the runway, designed to slow even the largest jetliners traveling landing at high speed. The Engineered Material Arrestor System (EMAS), or “arrestor beds” as they’re commonly called, is made of aerated concrete and helps decelerate aircraft before they end up in bodies of water, on public roads or in populated areas.


Photo by David Futch, LaGuardia Airport operations

Arrestor beds aren’t just another investment in safety for the Port Authority – their development was spearheaded by the agency, starting in the 1980s. The Port Authority worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the University of Dayton and Engineered Arresting Systems Corporation (ESCO) in New Jersey on technologies to provide updated airport runway safety.

Pamela Phillips, Port Authority Manager of Operations & Security at Teterboro Airport, was the agency’s lead in the development and implementation of arrestor bed systems.  “When I heard about the incident, I immediately thought, ‘good, we saved another one,’ ” she said of the recent LaGuardia landing. “EMAS did the job it was meant to do.”


Pam Phillips:  Photo by Rene  Spann

To provide a margin of error for pilots, the FAA’s standard Runway Safety Area (RSA) guidelines require safety zones at each end of the runway, or an area that is 1,000 feet long and 500 feet wide.  Many airports were built before the RSA standard and, since these airports are surrounded by residential and business districts or located in densely populated communities, there is no space to extend the runways.

Phillips said that EMAS bed installation preserves the operational runway length of the airport while meeting RSA requirements. Across the country, arrestor beds have limited the potential for serious damage to the aircraft, injuries to passengers or impact on the local community, and has saved lives. Today, EMAS is in place at 68 U.S. airports.

Kevin Quan of Zodiac Arresting Systems, the Logan, N.J.-based company formerly known as ESCO, said that “the key thing is that it has worked every single time. We have a 100-percent success record, with little or no damage to the aircraft.”

Photo by Pasquale DiFulco, PA Aviation department

 Members of the PA Aviation team, under Phillips’ leadership, began investigating new ways to protect incoming aircraft and passengers, after a plane attempting to land on Runway 4R at Kennedy International Airport in 1984 missed the runway and wound up in the waters of Thurston Basin. They identified cellular cement as the best material for construction of an overrun ramp (arrestor beds), which eventually led to a system that allows airplane tires to sink into lightweight, crushable material and facilitate rapid deceleration.

Phillips brought the idea to the FAA and was involved in conducting tests, developing technical specifications and writing standards that could be used in installing the beds at airports. JFK was the first airport with an EMAS system. In recognition of her contribution to EMAS, Phillips was the first woman to be presented The Elmer A. Sperry Award, an achievement named for the legendary transportation engineer that encourages progress in transportation.

“I am proud that I actually played a role in a major safety enhancement for aviation that is in use and saving lives,” she said.

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