CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A US Airways Express regional jet carrying 30 passengers and three crew members aborted its takeoff at Charleston’s Yeager Airport on Tuesday, rolled onto an overrun area at the end of the main runway, and came to a stop in a specially designed safety zone about 100 feet from the edge of the hilltop airport.
No one was injured in the incident, which took place shortly before 4:30 p.m. The airport remained closed until the 50-passenger Bombardier CRJ200 regional jet, which was bound for Charlotte, N.C., could be removed from the safety zone.
The safety zone contains a runway-wide Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS), comprised of concrete blocks designed to collapse under the weight of an airplane and bring it to a safe stop. It was installed in 2008 for $5 million as part of Yeager’s new runway extension project.
The jet’s wheels were buried in the EMAS material, with its fuselage coming to rest only a few feet above the specially engineered pavement.
A crane was brought in and used to remove the aircraft from the safety zone. The airport reopened shortly before 10 p.m.
“The EMAS system did exactly what it was supposed to do,” said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. “My understanding is that the US Airways plane rolled through about three-fourths of the EMAS at the Charleston end of the runway.
“If it hadn’t been for the EMAS, I’m convinced a catastrophic accident would have occurred.”
Passengers were taken off the plane and back into the terminal.
“It was a little scary, but everyone remained calm,” said Julia Shaffer of Valrico, Fla.
“We were going pretty fast down the runway and then all of a sudden we started to slow down and it started to get bumpy. Then we completely stopped,” said her 14-year-old son, Jonah. “I thought the tire had shredded or something.
“But when we stopped it seemed like the wing was a little lower to the ground than it should be,” he said. That was due to the plane sinking into the EMAS.
“We sat in the plane for a little while until the firemen came, and then we just went down the ladder and walked out,” he said.
After the aircraft came to rest, “The pilot said he decided to stop because he was getting some kind of a warning signal,” said Julia Shaffer. “He said he thought it was better to stop on the ground than in the air.
“He had to make a split-second decision, and I’m glad he decided to stop. Everyone’s safe — that’s all that matters. It all happened pretty fast. No one was panicky.”
“It was kind of alarming — kind of a jerky ride before we stopped really close to the end of the runway,” said Lindsay Robinson of Charleston, who was among the Charlotte-bound passengers. “But everyone seemed really calm.”
Julia and Jonah Shaffer, along with Julia’s husband Steve and Jonah’s sister Hannah, had spent the past several days skiing with relatives at Winterplace.
“I think Jonah’s hoping this means we can stay here and keep skiing,” said Julia Shaffer.
Authorities did not immediately know what warning signal prompted the pilot to abort the flight.
“The cost to repair the EMAS area will be enormous,” said Carper. “But when you have everyone walk away uninjured from something like this, the cost is insignificant.”
Staff writer Kathryn Gregory contributed to this report.
Got word Colgan and American Eagle are hiring. Last time Colgan hired mins were 1000/100. American Eagle stated they want 1000/200 with 1500/500 being more common by those who have been interviewed. This is all hearsay though. Either way both use AirlineApps.com. Anyone who wants a job at a regional anytime soon should go ahead and start an Airlineapps.com application. Cost nothing until you submit an application.
Colgan is hiring 150 First Officers and American Eagle is hiring 70 or so. Good luck to all those looking for a job.
Saw this in an online forum I read. I changed the cities and taken out the airline, but the rest remains.
I may not have been around for that long, but when I started with XXXX last year (and no I was not a 250 hour wonder, I was 2300, CFI<CFII<MEI) I was happily based in LAS for a few months and engaged to a great girl. I signed a lease for a 12 month apartment. After a few months LAS closed so I was forced to commute to IND. The commute was getting to tough so I had to cancel my lease (paid a 3 month penatly) and got a place right next to IND . A month later I was displaced to CMH, which now cause me a 1 hour commute through CMH when I was living walking distance to IND. A month later I was displaced to SFO. Half way through training then I was displaced to ORD and sent home. When I came back for training about a week in I was displaced to MCO. When I told my fiance this she ended up leaving me because she couldn’t deal with the airline life anymore and was not willing to move to Florida. Then about 3 days later after my fiance had left me I was told I was being furloughed. I was furloughed one week before I would have finished training and didn’t even get the XXX type. I was moved half way around the country for an entire year and had my fiance leave me over XXXX. I’d say some of us have sacrificed more then you realize just to fly an airplane for a living. I don’t think you really realize how many times the bottom 20 or so of us were displaced in just one years times.
I’m very lucky that I haven’t been displaced/furlough and have an amazingly understanding wife.
The old hands say there was never much glamour in piloting several tonnes of metal thousands of feet in the air.
But there’s no denying that to the earthbound back in the jet-set era half a century ago – when Pan Am’s “Clippers” ruled the air lanes and service was modelled on transatlantic ocean liners – pilots were regarded with an awe just short of that accorded to astronauts.
The exotic blend of international travel, the authority of commanding the ever larger and faster airliners, and those dashing uniforms turned heads, drew autograph hunters and attracted groupies. Pilots also made a lot of money.
Today it is different. Captain Dave Ryter earned so little when he was a co-pilot for a major airline that he lived in a gang area of Los Angeles, commuted for hours to work and made less money than a bus driver.
“I was standing at a gate waiting to commute a few years ago. I was in uniform and a passenger walks over to me and strikes up a conversation as people often do. He said: where’s your second home? I looked at him, thinking he was making a joke. He was serious. I said: actually, it’s my parents’,” said Ryter. “I was living in a very small town home in a gang area and my wife also worked for the two of us to support our family.”
Anyone waiting for their underpants to be checked knows that the glamour went out of flying years ago. But nowhere has the cachet fallen so far as in the US, where pilots on commuter airlines responsible for more than half the country’s flights now earn pitifully low salaries for long, unsocial hours.
Many are forced to fly half way around the country before they even begin work. Others sleep in trailers at the back of Los Angeles airport, in airline lounges across the country or even on the floors of their own planes. Some co-pilots, who typically take home about $20,000 (£12,500) a year, hold down second jobs to make ends meet.
Unless they have come through the military, many pilots also start their first jobs deeply in debt. “Many of them come to these jobs with $150,000 of debt for a $15,000-$20,000 starting job,” said Ryter. “It’s hard to make the economics of that work out. But there’s a theory that one day they’ll make a lot more money than that. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But the problem is they are in, for a number of years, quite a hard haul and there’s certainly no glamour. That’s long since gone.”
The result is not only the diminishing of a once coveted profession but increasing concerns about safety as many pilots are worked to the very limits of regulations, leaving them exhausted as well as relatively poor.
The largest union for pilots, the Air Line Pilots Association (Alpa), traces the change back about 20 years, when the smaller domestic airlines stopped selling their own tickets and began competing for contracts to act as local extensions of the major carriers. To win contracts they slashed costs, which included forcing down pay and demanding more of pilots.
Then came the 9/11 attacks, which pushed some airlines into bankruptcy and others to cut costs even further. Many pilots lost their jobs. Even those on some of the biggest airlines saw their pay slashed by as much as half.
But it is the regional pilots who have the toughest time. Ryter’s salary rose to $72,000 (£45,000) a year when he was promoted to captain three years ago, but many co-pilots have little prospect of promotion for years.
More than half of all regional pilots commute to work – which often means several hours in the jump seat of another aircraft before they begin their own job – largely because they are not paid enough to be able to afford to live in the major cities, such as New York or Miami, where their employers are based.
Ryter said that smaller airlines also regularly shifted where their aircraft and pilots are based according to the needs of the big carriers, but pilots were reluctant to uproot their families, pull children out of school and sell houses only to be moved again in a year.
“In the post-9/11 world, when companies have done everything they can to reduce costs, there have been changes that have really made the piloting job very challenging, very fatiguing, very demanding.
“With our schedules now it’s very common to leave one of the pilot domiciles and not see it for three or four days while you’re flying around the nation in multiple time zones. Without doubt the effect is that you are physically and mentally tired.
“The airlines have stayed right on the hairy edge of federal aviation regulations.”
The conditions in which commuter pilots now work were laid bare by an investigation into a crash near Buffalo, New York, that killed 50 people last year. It was revealed that neither the pilot, Marvin Renslow, nor co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw, had a proper night’s sleep before the flight.
Shaw, 24, was paid so little – just $16,200 (£10,000) a year – that she held a second job in a coffee shop and lived with her husband at her parents’ house across the country in Seattle. The night before the doomed flight, Shaw flew for several hours in the jump seat of two FedEx courier flights to reach her job at Newark airport and slept a few hours in the pilots’ lounge. Renslow also slept in the lounge after flying up to work from Florida, even though it was barred by the airline, Colgan Air, because of the regular disturbance from other pilots coming and going.
The investigation revealed that Shaw’s text messages just before the flight said she felt exhausted. Both pilots can be heard yawning on the voice recorder. During the flight, Shaw told Renslow that her husband, a soldier, was paid “more in one weekend of drill than I make [in a fortnight]”.
The co-pilot also reflected her relative inexperience by commenting that she had never seen so much ice on a plane, as it made its way through freezing weather. That was to prove an ominous observation. As the plane came in to land in bad weather at Buffalo the pilots did not notice their speed slow too much until an alarm sounded.
Renslow did the opposite to what he should have done and caused the plane to stall. Experts told the investigation that Renslow’s and Shaw’s evident lack of comprehension as to why the alarm was sounding suggested insufficient training.
One of the inquiry officials, Kitty Higgins, said she believed that the two pilots’ working conditions had contributed to the accident. “When you put together the commuting patterns, the pay levels, the fact that the crew rooms aren’t supposed to be used [for sleeping] but are being used, I think it’s a recipe for an accident,” she said.
The head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosenker, said that paying very low wages, knowing that it would result in pilots commuting long distances to get to work, was “winking and nodding” at safety.
Alpa’s vice-president, Captain Paul Rice, a 35-year airline veteran now flying transatlantic routes, says that the industry still remains extremely safe compared with other forms of travel. But he is concerned that it has driven out more experienced pilots while giving the legal minimum of training to new recruits to cut costs.
“If you constantly remove elements of training, and training that once took three weeks is down to one week, it’s easy to see how there’s less time to pass knowledge along, practise certain manoeuvres, things like that,” he said.
“The public needs to ask the question: is it worth it to always look at prices as the driving factor? Our managements and the investors in the airlines need to think about what is the cost of safety.”
Many of the more experienced pilots who lost jobs on major airlines got out of the industry because they faced working for entry-level wages if they shifted to smaller carriers.
“If you can go down the street and get a job at Home Depot or in real estate where wages are substantially higher than at a regional carrier, that’s probably where you’re gonna go,” said Ryter. “Our new entry pilots are right down at the food stamp wages. They can’t afford to start over at a regional carrier.”
Yet while the glamour may have gone, there remains a certain pull for pilots such as Ryter.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do. I know we’re talking about the negatives, of which there are many, but I still love what I do – being able to get into an aircraft that you could never afford to rent on your own, and be able to pilot it around the nation. I still love the business,” he said.