Water is so close to the ends of the runways at Groton-New London Airport there's no environmentally sensitive way to build runway safety areas, as required by the FAA by 2015, but a system based on something called cellular concrete can meet the FAA mandate.
"There are pockets of air within the material itself, so that's why it's lightweight," said Kevin Quan, director of sales and marketing for Zodiac Aerospace's "emergency arresting systems". Plastic panels on top and beneath add durability. When an overshooting aircraft hits the panels, the concrete turns to dust, stopping the plane.
FAA Regional Administrator Amy Lind Corbett said it's stopped aircraft at airports only eight times in 12 years but "It's saved lives, it's saved aircraft."
And at Groton-New London, it may have saved the airport. It's been out of compliance with FAA standards for "many years", said Carl Straub, longtime chairman of the citizens' advisory commission. By 2015, the FAA will require either runway safety areas or substitutes such as the cellular concrete system.
"I think what it does is actually give it a lifeline," said James Redeker, DOT Commissioner. He said a similar system is in the works for Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, the municipal airport for Bridgeport that, like Groton-New London, has to operate in tight quarters.
The FAA spent the bulk of the $9 million for the Groton-New London project, he said.