From decades I have been reading that, fire services would spray foam on the runway, in order to avoid fire, on a belly landing. Is this procedure still being used? If not, what would be the safest procedure?

  • $\begingroup$ Recent gear-up landing (that was known in advance so emergency services could prepare) was LOT B763 at Warsaw on Nov 1st 2011. However I can't quickly find definite statement whether they foamed the runway in advance or not in the report (I believe they did not). $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Dec 9 '15 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ I have heard (probably here, but have no supporting documentation) that they no longer foam the runway so they don't use it all up on the runway and have none left for a fire that may break out on impact. There's a certain amount of logic to that (don't waste the foam if there isn't going to be a fire), but quite a bit of fallacy in it, too (they're really not going to plan that poorly, are they?). $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Dec 9 '15 at 17:43

Firefighting services still apply foam path, atleast outside US, though the practice is no longer encouraged.

FAA, in its 2002 CertAlert 02-04 actively discourages it:

The FAA does not recommend the foaming of runways for emergency landings and warns against the practice with any foam other than “Protein” foam.... It is recommended that ARFF personnel decline to foam a runway when requested by a pilot because they do not have the specialized equipment and protein foam

FAA lists a number of reasons for this decision (It had actually recommended foam paths for emergency landings in 1966, before withdrawing it in 1987), including,

  • Time may not be always available for foaming

  • The use of foam in foam path should not affect the subsequent firefighting abilities.

  • Foaming the runway should not affect the movement and safety of other aircraft.

ICAO too, does not recommend for foaming the runway in its Airport Services Manual, stating,

15.1.2 The effectiveness of runway foaming is not fully substantiated by the real evidence of operational incident studies.

ICAO also considers the various reasons for foaming the runway and analyses them:

a) Reduction in aircraft damage. ... The data available from a study of emergency landings made with, and without, the application of foam show that no significant reduction is achieved in the risk of fire or in the extent of damage by the foaming of runways.

Reduction in deceleration forces. ... It is to be noted that from what is known to date, the braking action of an aircraft on a foamed runway will only be slightly worse than that on a wet runway, assuming non-freezing weather.

Reduction in friction spark hazard. ... tests have shown that aluminium alloy metals produce no friction sparks capable of igniting aircraft fuel vapours ... on either dry or foam-covered concrete or asphalt runway surfaces. ... Titanium friction sparks, capable of igniting aircraft fuel vapours, could not be effectively suppressed by runway foaming in any of the scale research tests ...

Reduction in fuel spill fire hazard. From all that is known of the fire suppression qualities of foam and the scale research tests, it is clear that a foamed runway would have no appreciable effect on the fire hazard of fuel vapours in the atmosphere over the foam.

ICAO also points out that the primary firefighting vehicles should not be used for foam laying operations; Also, the time taken for the operations and replenishment is a concern.

It is to be noted that, though the practice is no longer recommended, fire services are not barred from using it if the pilot asks for it and facilities are available.

In a related note, US armed forces seem to use it.

  • $\begingroup$ Another reason they might add after Asiana 214 is that survivors may be hidden in the foam and be run over by emergency vehicles $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Dec 9 '15 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ no significant reduction is achieved in the risk of fire or in the extent of damage. This is the key point. The Royal Air Force used to use Manston in southern England for landing "gear up" on a foam carpet but stopped when they found it made no difference to the outcomes. $\endgroup$ – Simon Dec 10 '15 at 7:52

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