FOD and the Industrial Sweeping Industry

The Airline Industry
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there are over 2,000 airlines operating worldwide and servicing every corner of the globe. Approximately 23,000 commercial aircraft are operating at any given time, taking off and landing from over 3,500 airports and transporting over 2 billion passengers to and from their destinations. In the U.S. alone, over 100 commercial airliners are responsible for close to 10 million flight departures annually, transporting a good one-third of the world’s airline passengers, close to 745 million travelers each year.
Few industries are as large and have such a powerful economic impact as the airline and airport industries, or play such a fundamental role in the development of a global economy. Each year, U.S. airlines generate tens of billions of dollars in total revenues, substantially contributing to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employing over half a million people, not including every other industry that, either directly or indirectly, benefits from air flight.

What is FOD?
Of all the issues that airports and airlines must contend with, safety is of utmost importance and one of the most challenging safety issues facing the airline and airport industries is dealing with FOD, a well-known acronym used in the industry to describe any object which could compromise the safe take-off and landing of the hundreds of thousands of daily flights. According to a Lockheed Martin Corporation’s report, “Foreign Object Elimination (FOE) Program,” published in 2013,“’FOD’ stands for Foreign Object Debris or Foreign Object Damage. The first definition is used to describe a substance, item or article that is alien to an assembly or system which would potentially cause damage…The second definition describes the damage that results from the object that can be expressed in physical or economic terms and may or may not degrade the product’s required safety or performance characteristics.”
FOD could be anything from small parts—bolts, rivets, screws, etc.—that fall of airliners during takeoff and landing, to tools mistakenly left on safety-critical surfaces such as runways and taxiways, to garbage like soda cans and papers, to wiring, dust, ash and sand to construction materials and broken runway fragments, to coins…the list goes on. Basically any object that could pose a threat to cockpits, engines, tires or airplane fuselages falls under the FOD rubric, even bird-strike issues as witnessed with the so-called “miracle on the Hudson” when a U.S. Airways Airbus A320 was forced to make an emergency water landing on the river due to multiple bird strikes, which caused both jet engines to fail and left the airplane totally powerless.

The Costs of FOD
According to an authoritative report “Current Airport Inspection Practices Regarding FOD (Foreign Object Debris/Damage): A Synthesis of Airport Practice”, published in 2011 by the Transportation Research Board (TRB), and sponsored by the Airport Cooperative Research Program and the Federal Aviation Administration, “FOD directly costs the U.S. aviation industry $474 million annually and the global aviation industry $1.26 billion annually.” The “ACRP Synthesis 26”report, as it is referred to, goes on to state that, “Indirect costs associated with FOD, including flight delays and other problems associated with FOD, cost the U.S. aviation industry $5.2 billion annually and the global aviation industry $13.9 billion annually.”1
According to Dr. Daniel Prather, a consultant from Prather Aviation Solutions, Chair & Professor of Aviation Science at California Baptist University, and the author of the ACRP Synthesis 26 report, “FOD is a significant concern for the aviation industry. The extensive reliance on visual inspection methods to detect FOD, while proven, creates a tremendous opportunity for airports to enhance their FOD detection and removal methods. Only removing FOD once when detected places a significant burden on the operator to detect all FOD at all times. Fortunately, there are proven technological and mechanical solutions that, if adopted, will greatly enhance an airport operator’s ability to reduce FOD, thus vastly improving airfield safety for all users.”

Airports and FOD
Clearly the costs and dangers associated with FOD require all airports to put in place due diligence policies and procedures in order to deal with the problem. The Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is a case in point. According to Mr. Keith Brune, PHL Deputy Director of Aviation, Operations & Facilities, “FOD is a serious issue for aviation and it is taken very seriously at PHL. The Airport has established rules and regulations relating to the care and handling of trash and debris on the airfield, which we monitor very closely. We have Airport Operations personnel who patrol the airfield all hours of the day looking for any potentially hazardous conditions, FOD included. If the hazard is in a small amount and confined, such as paper blowing around on the airfield, we will retrieve it on the spot. If the hazard is much larger, such as crumbling pavement, we will immediately close the affected surface and dispatch the appropriate crews to handle the situation.” The airport also maintains a small fleet of sweeper trucks.

FOD and the Power Sweeping Industry
As Dr. Prather correctly points out, there exist a number of “technological and mechanical solutions” that, if used regularly, could substantially “increase the ability of airports and airlines to reduce FOD, vastly improving airfield safety for all users.” One such company manufacturing and supplying FOD-reducing technologies is Schwarze Industries. Their fleet of commercial sweeping trucks, specifically their A4 Storm, the A7 Tornado and A7 Zephyr, are sold to airports and their associated contractors on multiple continents. According to Brian Giles, Product Manager for Schwarze Industries, all three of these models are “high performance regenerative air sweepers that are particularly well suited to the large flat areas of concrete and tarmac that airports need to maintain. All these sweepers offer full width pickup heads that feature blast orifice surface cleaning, which allows for efficient high ground speed sweeping and can cover a large area very quickly.” You can find Schwarze Industries FOD-reducing trucks at numerous airports worldwide, including Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, as well as airports in Seattle, Phoenix, New Orleans, Providence and Mexico City, to name just a few. Approximately 10% of all of Schwarze Industries products are directly associated with civilian and military airport sweeping trucks. In fact, their A7 zephyr is a “dedicated FOD sweeper” which, unlike some other FOD-reducing technologies that simply add a modified pickup head to a standard street sweeper, the A7 zephyr, states Mr. Giles, “comes standard with as much as 40 % more horsepower…40% larger blower, a runway cleaning side air blast, and a patented runway broom in [its] head that helps assure no damaging material is left on the runway.” In addition, the A7 Zephyr is “fully third party certified on both FAA and international runway FOD removal standard test requirements” explains Mr. Giles.

Responsibility for FOD
There is a saying in the industry, “FOD is everyone’s responsibility,” from airport operations and maintenance to airline personnel. While the Federal Aviation Administration has set the bar as far as FOD monitoring and removal is concerned, airports are such complex places that the actual responsibility for FOD is relegated to different entities according to which particular area of the aviation environment which is the focus of FOD remediation. For example, it might fall to airport operations and maintenance to eliminate FOD from runways, taxiways and cargo areas, whereas the airlines themselves may be responsible for FOD in airplane docking and parking areas. Sometimes, FOD-reduction in areas such as cargo aprons and airport terminal gates fall to both the airports as well as the airlines. That’s why oftentimes airports and airlines partner up in dealing with FOD. As Keith Brune, Deputy Director of Aviation at Philadelphia International Airport notes, “in addition to the airport’s rules and regulations, we have partnered with the airline community to conduct weekly in-depth inspections of the airfield areas and a report is generated noting FOD issues, by tenant area, and those tenants are notified immediately. Individual airlines have their own local policies regarding FOD and most do a daily FOD walk of their areas.”
FOD is truly “everyone’s responsibility” and “hats off” to everyone in the power sweeping industry that contributes technology and/or services for dealing with such a complicated problem that costs the airline industry billions of dollars, as well as posing serious hazard to human life, including airport field workers as well as innocent passengers who may lose their lives in catastrophic events if FOD is not properly dealt with and it gets into engines and causes airplanes to have accidents or crashes. One of the more publicized and tragic cases of FOD-related problems is Air France flight 4590 Concorde jet airliner, which crashed shortly after take-off, killing everyone on board in addition to four people on the ground close to the crash site. The official accident investigation report attributed the major cause of the doomed flight to be a small metal strip (FOD) that fell off of a Continental Airlines DC-10 taking off from the same runway as the Concorde, just five minutes previously.

Story by Mark Joseph Manion

1.Prather, C.D., ACRP Synthesis 26 (Current Airport Inspection Practices Regarding FOD (Foreign Object Debris/Damage), Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2011.