Commitment to aviation safety demonstrated by installation of a new kind of landing strip
Aramco’s Engineered Materials Arresting System is the first of its kind in MENA region.
The Southern Area Community and Public Projects Division recently completed the Haradh/Hawiyah Roadway Improvements Project, which also included upgrading the existing airstrip to accommodate the largest fixed-wing aircraft in Aramco’s fleet, the Boeing 737-700.
The project, which was completed in coordination with Aramco's Aviation Department, saw the installation of an aviation safety system called the Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS), which is the first of its kind in the Middle East and Northern African region.
The project was faced with a challenging task — to extend the existing runway in ‘Udhailiyah, so as to accommodate larger aircraft in their ability to safely land and take off. Due to the space limitations, the only way to achieve this feat was either to relocate critical Aramco infrastructure, or to construct the runway elsewhere. This second option, obviously, was more expensive and time-consuming with possible operational issues to critical company infrastructure.
The project team looked at existing technologies with an impeccable safety record, which could reduce the distance required for landing and takeoff of larger aircraft using the existing runway without compromising safety, especially with regards to aircraft overruns — a leading factor of aircraft accidents.
According to Business Insider, almost 49% of all fatal aviation accidents happen during the final descent and landing phases of the average flight, and 14% during takeoff and initial climb. Therefore, it is imperative that all runways comply with critical runway lengths to bring the aircraft to a safe stop, thereby minimizing injuries and preventing loss of lives in the emergency stop scenarios, as well as to aircraft and infrastructure.
The EMAS was identified to address this challenge of space limitations. The EMAS is an emergency system consisting of specially manufactured concrete blocks, installed at the end of the runway to bring the aircraft to a halt without overshooting the runway, in the event that an aircraft does not stop on its own before reaching the end. The EMAS is designed to accomplish this role while minimizing the potential for passenger injury and aircraft damage.
The project team carried out a comprehensive review of the official published records of the EMAS from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is the U.S.’s organization regulating air transportation, to see the effectiveness of the EMAS technology.
Out of 15 incidents where EMAS were installed, the EMAS safely managed to stop all the 15 overrunning aircraft, which is an excellent safety record. Armed with this data, the project team was confident of the safe implementation of this technology to try and address the project challenges.
The EMAS was found to be the most effective solution for improving on Aramco’s excellent aviation safety record, while also providing a cost-effective option for the project’s conditions and limitations. The project team managed to save approximately 30% of the project costs by implementing the EMAS versus extending the runway.
The EMAS demonstrated Aramco’s commitment toward safety and the critical role that technology and innovative solutions can play in solving project challenges and cost savings rather than the conventional systems.
-- by Witness Tinarwo and Abdullah K. Al-Eid
TOP PHOTO CAPTION
Located at the end of the runway, the EMAS aviation safety system is a breakable cement. The cement will crumble when an airplane runs over it, thereby preventing the aircraft from overrunning the end of the runway and causing an accident.