In aviation and aerospace, Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is defined as an object, live or not, located in an inappropriate location in the airport environment that can injure airport or air carrier personnel and damage aircraft. FAA Guidelines define FOD damage as any damage attributed to foreign debris expressed in physical or economic terms that may or may not downgrade the product’s safety or performance characteristics. According to recent aviation surveys, Foreign Object Damage was ranked as the most prominent and potential ground-based cause that could lead to a catastrophic aviation event.
Types of FOD Hazards:
FOD hazards can be of two types: External and Internal. Examples of external FOD hazards include bird strikes, hail, ice, sandstorms, ash clouds, or objects left on the runway. Examples of internal FOD hazards include items left in the cockpit that interfere with flight safety by getting tangled in control cables, jam-moving parts, or short-out electrical connections. Further, according to Research and Technology Organization (RTO), FOD hazards can be classified as caused by soft and hard FOD bodies. The impact of soft-body damage can be due to flexible objects such as plastic, birds, or ice slabs. The hard body damage can be due to uneven appearances such as rigid metal parts, concrete, and rock. Based on the studies done on Automatic Detection Systems, more than 60% of FOD items were of metal, followed by 18% of rubber.
Sources of FOD:
FOD can generate from many sources, complicating the efforts to maintain safe airfield operation:
- Personnel: Caused by inappropriate housekeeping and poor working behavior
- Airport infrastructures: Sign, lights, and pavements, especially in winters
- Environment: Wildlife, snow, and ice
- The equipment operating on the airfield: Aircraft airport operations vehicles, maintenance equipment, fuelling, and construction equipment
- Aircraft and engine fasteners: Nuts, bolts, and washers
- Aircraft parts: Fuel cap, oil stick, trapdoors, and tire fragments
- Flight line items: Nails, personnel badges, luggage tags, soda cans, etc
- Runway and taxiway materials: Concrete and asphalt chunks, rubber joint materials, and paint chips
Problems associated with FOD:
According to DAA and Individual studies by McCreary, the worldwide direct costs of FOD (including bird strikes) are estimated to be $1.26 billion annually. The total loss – direct and indirect costs (such as those costs created by flight delays), to the global aviation industry stand at $13.9 billion annually. In the United States alone, direct and indirect costs of FOD accumulate to $5.2 billion. Without including damages caused by bird strikes, the United States experiences losses of $2.1 billion annually. The top ten U.S. airports, FOD, and bird strikes on runways generate a loss of $28.3 million annually.
Damages caused by FOD can be divided into two – minor and major damages. Minor damages are often caused by soft FOD bodies and cause dents on the aircraft surface. On the other hand, major damages are caused by heavy and hard FOD objects such as metal, infrastructure material, etc., and cause damages to the engine, malfunction of the control surface, jammed flight controls, and electrical shots.
According to ATSB, about 11% of FOD occurrences led to airframe wheel and engine damage. Other notable damages include malfunction of aircraft mechanisms, injuring personnel after being propelled by a jet blast or prop wash.
Responsibility, Preventive Measures, and Control of FOD damage:
FOD prevention and control is the responsibility of all airport users – passengers, vendors, airport personnel, maintenance engineers, flight operators and crew, airport authority. However, specific responsibility must be assigned to trained and supervised individuals under the maintenance program of airport authorities.
An Independent study by Boeing mentions that Airports and Airlines have a predominant role in preventing foreign object debris (FOD) and the potential resulting damage.
- Airports: Regulatory agencies define that airports are responsible for serving scheduled airlines. According to FAA Part 139.305(a)(4), “except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, mud, dirt, sand, loose aggregate, debris, foreign objects, rubber deposits, and other contaminants shall be removed promptly and as completely as practicable.” FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-30A, Airport Winter Safety and Operations, specify cleanup requirements for sand applied during winter operations. Recommendations by ICAO, Annex 14, Pavements-paragraph 9.4.2 states that, “The surface of pavements (runways, taxiways, aprons, etc.) should be kept clear of any loose stones or other objects that might cause damage to airplane structures or engines, or impair the operation of airplane systems.”
- Airlines: Airlines and airport tenants generate much of the FOD found in gate areas, service roads, baggage makeup areas, and areas near flight kitchens. Agreements between airlines and their support organizations should specify which parties are responsible for cleaning various areas.
The following measures can be used as guidelines for FOD prevention:
- Periodic inspection of the airfield, including aircraft maneuvering areas, pavements, and adjacent open spaces
- Suspension of runway operations upon notification to ATC about FOD on or near the runway until FOD has been removed and the runway inspected, as necessary
- Regular and frequent inspection of the airfield buildings and equipment and immediate repair or withdrawal from service of items likely to create FOD
- Inspection of the parking gate to ensure that it is free of FOD, including ground equipment, and of ice, snow, or other material capable of reducing braking action (usually the responsibility of the airline representatives)
- Removal of FOD as soon as it is identified
- Use of modern technology for constant FOD inspection systems
- Implementing a FOD control program
FOD Prevention Program:
FAA Provides guidelines on the FOD Prevention Program, with clear and precise policies and procedures to prevent and eliminate FOD in the organization. According to FAA, the FOD prevention program should address such items as:
- An understanding of the importance of FOD elimination – How does FOD prevention affect safety, quality, costs, and customer satisfaction?
- The vision of the FOD Prevention Program
- The goals that need to be achieved and the time frame to achieve them Guidelines for the Prevention and Elimination of FOD Page 8 of 42
- Measurement or Benchmarking – How does the organization compare with other similar organizations? What measurements should be made to demonstrate progress, how will they be made, what are the starting conditions?
- Organization – Who will manage the program? What support will be available? How will the support be organized?
- Policies and Procedures – What policies and procedures exist? How are they disseminated or published? How will continuous process improvement be achieved?
- Feedback Procedures – How will information concerning FOD successes or failures be communicated back to the maintenance technicians and managers?
- Investigations of incidents and accidents – How will accidents and incidents be reported and investigated? What data will be collected, where will it be stored, and how will it be analyzed? How will the data analysis affect the future direction of the program?
Why a FOD Prevention Program Essential?
Whilst the airport authority is responsible for the runways, taxiways, and general maneuvering areas, airline representatives or handling agents are normally responsible for ensuring that the gate and its approaches are clear of FOD, including ground equipment, and are free of ice, snow, or other contaminants capable of affecting braking action. Handling contracts must specify the extent of agents’ responsibilities, and agents’ procedures must determine how these responsibilities are to be exercised.
The prevention program focuses mainly on three FOD aspects:
- Training and awareness: Frequent training to flight crew (as defined by SOPs, pre and post-flight inspection procedures) and to personnel and passengers on the hazards of FOD, damage to equipment, the direct and indirect costs associated with FOD.
- Inspection Procedures and Policies: Inspection and drills help increase familiarity with local airfield conditions and promote effective communication between the airport and airlines. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) require a daily daylight inspection of airplane maneuvering areas and removal of FOD.
- Preventive Maintenance tools and techniques: Training on periodic PM techniques to personnel for maintaining control of FOD. The training shall include FOD preventive measures such as sweeping, usage of magnetic bars and rumble strips, and FOD containers.
Though creating a FOD Prevention plan is time and cost-intensive, Airport authorities and Airlines benefit from the program in terms of direct and indirect savings.
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