Background: I recently watched the Channel5 documentary on JetBlue 292 with their famous sideways landing gear. At around the 8:00-mark you see footage of the actual landing: Main landing gear intact but nose gear twisted. It was mentioned in the documentary, that complete nose gear failure and subsequent friction and possible fire were a main concern.

This leads me to my question: When is it appropriate to foam a landing strip?

Prior to actually thinking about it, I just assumed, that whenever friction/fire was expected (damaged/retracted landing gear), one might want to foam up a runway, to provide extra cooling and fire suppression for the stricken aircraft. So, in my non-aviator-thinking, this would have been a textbook example of wheren to foam a runway. But in the documentary (7:48-8:10) it is clearly visible that there was no foam - from the point of touchdown all the way until the complete stop.

To rephrase my question in two parts:

  1. What is the reason for JB292's landing to be without foam?
  2. If the equation "Bad Landing Gear = Foam Needed" does not hold, what are the policies of when to apply foam?
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It is appropriate to foam the landing strip if the landing strip is on fire. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jun 10, 2021 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ This is not an answer because I don't have any sources to cite at the moment, maybe someone else wants to turn it into one. If my memory serves, usage of foam has significantly decreased after an incident where a passenger was hidden by the foam, and subsequently run over and injured / killed by a fire truck. $\endgroup$ Jun 11, 2021 at 5:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Mark’s comment seems silly but actually very true on aircraft carriers. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Jun 11, 2021 at 15:09

1 Answer 1

  • Covering an entire runway in foam takes a lot of foam. There may not be any left for post-crash fire.
  • Foam reduces surface friction and brake action, friction isn't always bad, it makes it so that things stop. If you apply foam, you may overrun the runway because you are sliding.
  • Directional control is difficult on foam.
  • Evacuating people into foam means they may slip/fall.
  • Fires are not difficult to deal with if the aircraft is intact. Historically evacuations are very effective (FAA requires the entire aircraft can be evacuated in 120 seconds with 50% of the exits available).
  • AFFF isn't that great for the environment
  • It is really difficult to wash off in that volume, leading to delays in moving the aircraft and reopening the runway

Technically this is called a Foam Path and was the FAA recommendation back in the 60's, but the recommendation was retracted in '87. In 2002 the FAA released Cert 02-04 recommending against the use of foam paths specifically for items listed above.

Belly landings and failed nose-gear landings rarely result in post-crash fire provided the pilot can keep the aircraft on the runway.

Here is an example of one airport in Warsaw that did foam the runway (incident is LOT Flight 16):

Notice how a couple passengers did slip and fall in the evacuation.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this amazing answer! Since you linked the UnitexExpress and LOT examples: Do you know, why one had fome while the other in a similar situation had not? Does this maybe just depend on the opinion/mood of the airport people handling the emergency? $\endgroup$
    – Acasta
    Jun 12, 2021 at 12:50

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