How To Prevent Foreign Object Debris At Airports

Airplace on the Tarmac Surrounded by GSE

Foreign object debris (FOD) causes billions of dollars of damage to aircraft each year. While not totally avoidable, there are ways to remove FOD and reduce the potential for foreign object damage. Keep reading to learn about the common causes of FOD and ways to mitigate the issue, including conducting daily inspections and using proper ground support equipment (GSE) with towbarless tugs specifically designed for the job.

What Is Foreign Object Debris?

Foreign object debris is the direct result of mechanical deficiencies and workplace complacency. It includes any item that comes from anything on the airside of an airport that can damage equipment or harm personnel. The airside of an airport includes all areas around an aircraft and the buildings that are only accessible to passengers and staff.

The airside sees hundreds of vehicles, aircraft, GSE and much more on a daily basis, each with thousands, if not millions, of bolts, nuts, rivets, screws and washers. That's in addition to building materials, pavement fragments, catering supplies, pieces of luggage, rocks, sand, tire rubber, personal items and animals, all of which can also be found on the airside of an airport. All it takes is just one of these to cause costly damage to an aircraft.

National Aerospace FOD Prevention, Inc. (NAFPI) estimates that foreign object damage costs the aerospace industry an average of $4 billion per year. FOD can cut aircraft tires, damage engines, prevent aircraft mechanisms from operating properly and injure people (potentially fatally) after it's propelled by a jet blast or propeller wash. Foreign object damage most often occurs due to one or more of the following factors:

  • Inadequate employee training
  • Improperly maintaining buildings, equipment and aircraft
  • Severe weather which can blow FOD onto an airfield
  • Uncontrolled vehicles or contractors on an airfield

The Most Damaging Foreign Object Debris

While FOD can be found at cargo aprons, run-up pads, runways, taxiways and terminal gates, there are three main areas that have the potential to cause the most damage. You'll want to pay particular attention to these.

  • Maintenance FOD. This includes items that are used in maintenance or construction activities, like tools, materials or small parts.
  • Taxiway/Apron FOD. This includes small items that can easily be moved onto the runway from a jet's blast.
  • Runway FOD. The most dangerous of the three, runway FOD includes objects that have fallen from an aircraft or vehicle, wildlife, broken ground support equipment, etc. These items have the greatest potential to adversely affect fast-moving aircraft during both take-off and landing.

FOD Prevention Methods

FOD prevention starts with a good foreign object debris control program made up of both active and passive measures. The following are just a few ways to stay on top of FOD and ensure a tiny piece of debris doesn't turn into a massive problem down the line.

1. Hold Employee Training Sessions

Ensure employees, flight crews, technicians and maintenance personnel are properly trained in how to look for and prevent FOD. Training should include how to identify and eliminate foreign object debris and the dangerous consequences of ignoring it.

A good way to prevent foreign object damage is to make sure employees have a sense of ownership in their work. Talk through and evaluate FOD education, news, best practices and processes on a regular basis to make sure your staff has everything they need to conduct proper FOD prevention.

2. Conduct Regular Inspections

Daily, daylight inspections should be done to the airfield, aircraft maneuvering areas, any adjacent open spaces, parking gates, airfield buildings and ground support equipment. If any airfield buildings or GSE have the potential to create FOD in the near future, they should be immediately removed from service and repaired. And if construction is going on, more frequent inspections may need to occur. Install foreign object debris checkpoints where employees can get out and check tires for FOD by hand. Flight crews should always report to air traffic control or station operators if they observe FOD on the runways or taxiways. Good foreign object debris inspections are all about thoroughness, communication and coordination.

If any foreign object debris is found during inspections, runway operations should be suspended and any FOD should be removed right away. A follow-up inspection should then be done after the FOD is removed.

3. Employ FOD Maintenance Systems

You need to actively take measures to eliminate foreign object debris on both the airside and landside of the airport. FOD control systems can include anything from waste buckets and coffee cans to vehicle-mounted magnetic bars and rumble strips. High-volume, high-revenue airports often have 24/7 surveillance and ground radar systems for foreign object debris. While these constant inspection systems can detect FOD faster and more reliably, they're often too expensive for smaller airports. In general, an FOD maintenance system should include the following.

  • Sweeping. Whether done manually or with an airfield sweeper, sweeping is the most effective way to remove FOD from the airside.
  • FOD Containers. Placed at all gates for the collection of debris, foreign object debris containers are crucial for an effective maintenance system. Any FOD that is found during inspections should be placed in these containers. This allows the FOD to be inspected in order to identify where the debris originated from.
  • Magnetic Bars. These are typically suspended beneath aircraft tugs to pick up any metallic material. These magnetic bars should be cleaned regularly to prevent them from dropping collected FOD.
  • Rumble Strips. These strips can be placed at transition points from landside to airside. When a vehicle drives over a rumble strip, it dislodges foreign object debris from the vehicle's undercarriage.
  • Netting & Fencing. To restrict the movement of airborne FOD and animals entering the airfield, install wind barriers, netting and fencing.

4. Use Proper GSE

While tractors are often used on airfields, they're not specially tailored for the airside environment. Towbarless aircraft tugs are. Our electric aircraft tugs are compact and have the ability to stop instantly if an operator notices foreign object debris on the tarmac. The low-profile towbarless design eliminates major sources of FOD hazards, including fasteners, pins and latches that are commonly found on a tow bar. Choosing the right ground support equipment can minimize FOD, reducing repair costs and improving the safety of employees and passengers.

Prevent Foreign Object Damage with the Right GSE from Eagle Tugs

Knowing how to prevent foreign object damage is only the first step — it's more important to take action. Start taking active measures to reduce foreign object debris today. At Eagle Tugs, we offer compact GSE designed to move aircraft both efficiently and safely. Our towbarless tug provides a simplistic and ergonomic design, virtually eliminating inefficiencies and unnecessary FOD risks. Reach out for additional information and to learn how our GSE solutions can work for you.

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