Foreign Object Damage: Prevention, Costs and Detectors


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There has been significant concern to reduce Foreign Object Damage. (FOD) debris found on the surface of a ramp on an airport includes rocks, screws, fasteners, nails, tools, wire, and rivets. FOD debris can find their way into the strangest places and do considerable damage. Foreign Object Damage poses a perennial hazard to aircraft operations and passenger safety. Aircraft repairs, flight delays and airport maintenance stemming from FOD cost the global aerospace industry an estimated $4 billion a year. This paper focuses on FOD prevention, cost, human factors, and FOD detectors.

Table of Contents


Table of Contents……………………………………………………..3

Background of the Problem………………………………………………4


FOD Prevention………………………………………………………6

Human Factors……………………………………………………….7

FOD Detector………………………………………………………..9



Background of the problem

 Foreign Object Damage (FOD) is the debris found on the surface of a ramp on an airport. Such are rocks, screws, fasteners, nails, tools, wire, and rivets. FOD debris can find their way into the strangest places and do considerable damage. FOD can have devastating effects on a jet engine because the intakes operate like giant vacuum cleaners, sucking up anything and everything in their path. Some of the aircraft engines are close the ground and they could be extremely susceptible to FOD because of its powerful engine, large intake, and proximity to the ground (England, 2002).

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Bits of rock, sand, metal, and even ice and snow ingested into a jet engine can cause significant damage to the compressor blades and other internal parts. This translates into a lot of money to repair or replace a FOD-damaged engine. FOD can be found on the parking aprons, taxiways, and runways of almost every airport and airbase in the world (England, 2002).

The most publicized FOD incidents are caused by maintenance or operations personnel leaving tools, parts, checklists and flight publications in or near a jet engine intake. The jet sucks them in and you instantly have a FOD incident that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Debris dragged onto the ramps, taxiways and runways is the number one FOD problem (Doyle, 2004).

FOD is a major concern and must be prevented. A Singapore Airlines 747-400 crashed in 2000 at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in Taiwan due to FOD damage, apparently after striking an object on the runway. The aircraft was bound for Los Angeles and had 179 passengers and crew members aboard. At least 79 people died in the fiery crash (Leib, 2000).

The crash of an Air France Concorde in July 2000 was attributed to a piece of titanium that apparently detached from a departing jet only a few minutes before the supersonic transport began its takeoff roll at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Investigation indicates that FOD shredded a landing gear tire, which punctured a fuel tank and ignited a fire. All 109 passengers and crew and four people on the ground were killed (Phillips, 2008).


Federal Aviation Administration representative Jim Patterson, airport safety specialist in the airport technology research and development branch at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center stated that it is estimated that foreign object debris (FOD) costs the global airline industry more than $4 billion annually, chiefly from ingestion of debris into jet engines and damage to airframes. One U.S. airline has reported $1.8 million in FOD damage per month fleet-wide, according to Patterson. Per Patterson the FAA does not collect FOD information from airlines or airports but does require runway inspections (Phillips, 2008).

FOD cost airliners significant amount of money. Hawaiian Airlines is one example. In June of 2003 Hawaiian Airlines suspended its service between Honolulu and Pago Pago (PPG), American Samoa, after two of its aircraft suffered significant engine damage from foreign object debris on the airport’s main Runway. Hawaiian initially canceled two roundtrip flights, scheduled to complete an assessment of the runway and determine when to resume operations. The carrier notified the FAA of its concerns and asked the agency to send its own inspectors to evaluate the operational integrity of the runway, which is listed at roughly 10,000 ft. in total length. The first problem occurred June 13, when Hawaiian Flight 465, a Boeing 767, sustained foreign object damage to both engines on arrival at PPG. Repairs delayed Hawaiian’s return Flight 466 to Honolulu for 17 hours. The same thing happened to a different 767 on June 23 and the return flight to Honolulu was delayed by 19 hours while repairs were finished.  FOD cost the airlines delays, damage to engines that ultimately resulted in cost damage to the airlines (Lott, 2003).

FOD Prevention

The prevention and control of FOD is key to the preservation of an aircraft and the safety of those personnel working on the aircraft. This starts with awareness of its presence on the parking ramp, taxiways, runways, and even the roads that lead into and out of these areas. Good housekeeping on the parking ramp will go a long way in preventing hardware, stones, rocks, rubbish, and clothing from finding its way into a jet engine. This is the responsibility of every aircrew member, mechanic, technician, and driver who works around the airfield. If an individual see FOD, must pick it up and dispose of it properly. That means place it in a sealable container and dispose of it far away from the field so it can’t find its way back lodged in the tires of someone’s vehicle (England, 2002).

The key to FOD prevention and control is constant vigilance and immediate action to remove the hazards from the area. The mission – especially depends on assets being fully mission capable. That can only happen when everyone does their part to prevent FOD. When an individual drives a vehicle, must inspect tires before driving onto the ramp or taxiway. If a thorough vehicle FOD inspection is not conducted the vehicle tires can pick up rocks and deposit them on the ramp area or taix areas. Every attempt must be made to stay on paved surfaces. Individual also must avoid driving on the dirt or grass whenever possible. These simple FOD-prevention measures can avoid millions of dollars and hundreds of man-hours to spend to repair or replace the damage (England,2002).

Human Factors

Human elements involved with the mission can be a major contributor to an accident. They are ingrained into our brains from day one, especially for those of us in aircraft maintenance. Mishap prevention efforts dedicated to reducing human factors refated Foreign Object Damage (FOD) are no exception. Most incidents are the ones caused by inappropriate human factors behavior – such as not following written guidance, complacency, and preoccupation. Human factors play a big role in FOD prevention. Because we’re all supposed to be trained to identify potential hazards and eliminate them before they become a link in the “chain of events” that often leads to injury, damage, or mission degradation (Roller, 1999).

A single engine FOD incident on an F-15 can cost anywhere from $200,000 to over $1 million, depending on the extent of the damage. Human error cost the Air Force more than $370,000. The following is one example that cost Air Force lots of money. The engine run was to be performed by an experienced staff sergeant with several years of engine run experience. The aircraft’s assigned crew chief, not knowing the jet needed an engine run, had begun putting his aircraft to bed by installing the aircraft covers. He only had the chance to install the left secondary heat exchanger inlet cover before he was called away to assist with a defuel on another aircraft. The run man arrived at the aircraft moments later to review the forms and to start his pre-run checks. As he walked up to the aircraft, he noticed the aircraft covers on the ground and assumed all the covers were removed. He performed his pre-run intake inspection; then he and the crew chief (now finished assisting on the defuel task) performed a walk-around inspection of the aircraft… without either noticing and/ or removing the one cover previously installed. A 30-minute double engine run was accomplished with no defects noted. After engine shutdown, a post-run intake inspection of both engines was performed, which resulted in the discovery of foreign object damage to the left engine. The secondary heat exchanger inlet cover was ingested by engine (Roller 1999).

 In order to minimize human factors associated causes from mishaps, especially those associated with FOD, supervisors need to identify potential sources of danger which cause risk. The bottom line is that human factors involved with a FOD mishap not only involve the last person who touched the object, it can be anyone in the process without regard to rank or position. We all need to work hard at seeing the big picture to eliminate the human factors that cause incidents, because only then can we eliminate the potential mishap. Preventing FOD is an individual responsibility. You can do your part to eliminate potential sources of FOD through good housekeeping practices and good work habits. Preventing FOD requires a focused attention on our part – alertness and attention to detail – but the results will always be worth it in the end. So, whether it’s a screw about to be ingested into an aircraft engine or a rag binding a landing gear, FOD is a danger. Do your part in FOD prevention each and every day (Roller, 1999).

FOD Detectors

Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of evualuting Tarsier Foreign Object Debris FOD Technology checking for runway debris. TF Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, is the first commercial airport in the United States to install and operate Tarsier Foreign Object Debris technology. The system developed by the UK’s QinetiQ is currently being tested and evaluated there by the University of Illinois Center of Excellence in Airport Technology (CEAT) on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Checking for runway debris is currently performed manually with visual inspections several times a day. The new, fully automated system provides continuous scanning of the runway area and alerts airport operations specialists about foreign objects that are detected. Workers recover and keep a record of all debris that is recovered (Air Safety, 2007).

Tools such as QinetiQ’s FOD system improve the way we operate and help improve the safety conditions of air travel. The FAA has an ongoing program to evaluate the performance of FOD detection systems at commercial airports. The studies are being conducted at the FAA’s William A. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, NJ, as part of the Airport Safety Management Program. The performance evaluation program at TF Green Airport began in June of 2007. Upon completion it is expected that the FAA will publish an Advisory Circular that will assist airports in safety management activities related to FOD (Air Safety, 2007).  

Two Tarsier radar units are in place at TF Green Airport’s North- South runway for the six-month long performance assessment that will test the FOD system in a variety of weather and lighting conditions, including wind, rain, snow and darkness.

The units are housed in towers that resemble small lighthouse beacons. A display unit (a high tech computer) in the airport’s operations center provides a visual image of the runway and radar imagery. Upon detection of FOD, an alarm sounds and airport staff proceed to the area in question, performing a visual inspection and recovery.

QinetiQ’s Tarsier system is presently in use at Vancouver International Airport and is being installed at Dubai International Airport. The FAA evaluation at TF Green is hugely important chance to demonstrate to the FAA that fully automated runway FOD inspections are now possible (Air Safety, 2007).

The FAA is evaluating a series of automated systems designed to detect and report foreign object debris on airport surfaces, leading to development and publication of performance standards for these emerging technologies as early as 2009. The agency is focusing its tests on four mature designs. These include U.K.-based Qinetiq’s Tarsier system that uses millimeter-wave radar mounted on pylons near a runway, U.S.-based Trex Enterprise’s FOD Finder that uses infrared cameras and millimeter-wave radar mounted on the roof of a vehicle, Israel’s X-Sight FOD Detect that combines high-resolution cameras and millimeter-wave radar mounted on existing airport lighting systems and Singapore-based Stratech’s iFerret design featuring high-resolution cameras on towers (Phillips, 2008).

At this time Qinetiq’s Tarsier radar system has been operating for the past eight months at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. Stratech’s equipment is awaiting final design approval by the FAA and is scheduled for installation by the summer of 2008 on Runway 27L at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The X-Sight system was recently installed on Runway 15R at Boston Logan International Airport and began initial operations in March. In addition, the FAA has collected preliminary data using the mobile Trex installation that was deployed in March at Chicago’s Midway Airport (Phillips, 2008).

Evaluation of the four systems, scheduled for a minimum of 12 months each, will lead to development of automated FOD-detection system performance standards that will be published in an FAA Advisory Circular (AC) per FAA representative Patterson. In addition, the AC will allow commercial airports to apply for federal funding to acquire FOD systems. All four technologies have the capability to detect and report the presence of FOD on a runway surface and significantly improve an airport operator’s ability to quickly locate and remove items. The systems, which vary in cost from about $200,000 to $1 million, can detect small items such as screws and washers (Phillips, 2008).

To help administer the field evaluations, the FAA is teaming with the University of Illinois’s Center of Excellence in Airport Technology (CEAT). Cooperation between the agency and academia allows universities to perform investigative research along with the FAA, and provides graduate students with an opportunity to gain real-world engineering experience. The research process uses a multiple-step approach that “allows researchers to challenge each technology” on its ability to consistently detect, sample and report the presence of FOD on a taxiway or runway (Phillips, 2008).

The year-long trial period ensures that each system will be exposed to a wide variety of weather conditions, especially snow, where the technologies will be particularly challenged to differentiate actual FOD from accumulating snow. Throughout the year, the FAA/CEAT team travels to each test location to conduct research. For initial trials, a set of special calibration targets are placed at preselected points along the runway and then the system scans the surface. Each month, the same targets are placed at the same points to check the system’s ability to repeat detection and reporting. A second test uses typical FOD items such as fuel caps, rocks, airport signs and other objects placed at predetermined positions on the runway. Although the positions of items remain the same from month to month, they are changed at random and rotated 45 deg. to test the system’s ability to detect FOD regardless of its orientation to the sensor. A final challenge, known as “blind testing,” involves using unknown FOD items placed at random points on the runway. This is as close to the real world as researchers can get to evaluation of a system. The system will not know where to look or what to look for as it scans the surface and is graded on the number of items it can detect (Phillips, 2008).

The FOD work is attracting international interest and has led other countries to begin FOD programs. France is investigating the use of FOD systems and Eurocontrol has initiated research that could lead to development of a performance standard acceptable to the International Civil Aviation Organization. The FAA has taken a proactive approach to automatic detection technology and is interested in participating in an international program to develop, certify and adopt these systems (Phillips, 2008).


We must be thoroughly aware of FOD and its associated hazards. We must also do all we can to prevent and control FOD. Damage to aircraft and equipment caused by FOD ingestion can be very expensive. FOD containers (cans, buckets, pouches, or bags) should be available in every vehicle in an airport and in every work area. FOD containers also should be attached to toolboxes and ground equipment. FOD containers must be empty daily and the place must be kept clean to reduce hazards. An addition to that when someone drives a vehicle, must inspect the tires before driving onto the ramp or taxiways. If a thorough vehicle FOD inpection is not conducted the tires can pick up rocks and deposit them in the ramp area. Every attempt must be made to stay on paved surfaces and avoid driving on the dirt or grass whenever possible. These simple FOD-prevention measures can avoid millions of dollars and hundreds of man-hours aviation industries currently spend to repair or replace the damage. Finally FAA must continue to do research and development on new and updated FOD equipment to reduce the risk of FOD.


Air Safety Week. (2007). FAA tests British runway safety device. New York Vol. 21, ISS. 39

Doyle, R. (2004). FOD in the AOR. Flying Safety. Washington: Vol. 60, Iss. 3, 3

England, B. J. (2002). FOD. Combat Edge. Langley AFB. Vol. 11, Iss. 7, 10-11

Leib, J. (2000). Debris scouts keep wary eye on runway. Denver Post Staff Writer. Denver Post. Denver, Colo.: C.01

Lott, S. (2003). Hawaiian stops pago pago flights after FOD damage. Aviation Daily. 07

Roller, C. (1999). Human factors and FOD prevention. Combat Edge. Langley AFB. Vol. 8, Iss. 1, 12-15

Phillips, H. E. (2008). FAA testing automated foreign object systems. Aviation Week & Space Technology. Pomona, N.J. 43


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