Advanced FOD Detection

Technology is changing the game and making rapid response possible

A properly installed FOD detection system can save an airport US$1 million a year in runway closures. Consider, for example, the indirect costs of two European airports that each experienced approximately 667 minutes of delays from FOD for every 10,000 movements. This delay translates into US$26,740 per 10,000 movements. For large airports that see upwards of 400,000 annual movements, the cost reaches over US$1 million a year.

Desirable Characteristics
Quality systems work automatically and are able to scan the runway, analyze the scene, detect and classify potential problems, and promptly send real-time alerts to responsible parties.

A FOD detection system must be able to work unimpeded in severe weather. This includes operating and spotting debris in extreme heat and cold, rain, or snow, day or night. It must withstand high-wind conditions and operate continuously year-round.

Another desirable quality is the ability to equally recognize and clearly display both small and large objects. This is done through high-resolution camera sensors that have the capacity to zoom in to view small objects and zoom out to focus on larger objects.

Pinpointing the exact location of FOD can be difficult. Yet, with a properly installed, automated surveillance and detection system, this is done easily and accurately. Self-calibrating electro-optic sensors detect and locate impediments in real time as they occur. Ideally, the system should be able to be programmed to “learn” what is FOD and what is not — the sensors see the scanned area as it should be, including all stationary objects, like runway lights — and alert accordingly, eliminating false alerts as much as possible.

When determining legal liability, a FOD detection and surveillance system that is able to perform post-event analysis is invaluable. Look for systems that can accurately record events and categorize debris, which is helpful in ruling out or uncovering the cause of issues involving the runway, apron, hangar, flight deck, and taxiway.

There are both active and passive FOD surveillance systems on the market today. Many active systems include radar and active light sources. While these systems may work well, they can pose certain safety concerns. For instance, radar detection systems emit a level of radiation that may be dangerous to humans. Furthermore, systems employing active light sources may cause operational interference with airport systems and equipment. Where these issues are a concern, there are passive surveillance and FOD detection systems available that are specifically designed not to interfere with existing airport and airline technology or produce unhealthy emissions.

Testing is crucial in determining whether a FOD detection system can perform as specified. Many systems such as Trex Enterprises’ FOD Finder, QinetiQ’s Tarsier, and Xsight’s FODetect are undergoing or have completed testing. In 2007, Stratech’s iFerret passed two rounds of evaluation conducted by the University of Illinois Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT), which supports the Federal Aviation Administration in a FOD technology performance assessment program. Following these evaluations at Singapore Changi Airport, iFerret was subsequently recommended for a full evaluation at Chicago O’Hare by FAA. It has been tested successfully at O’Hare, and the system has also satisfied operations under winter/snow conditions. [SITA is in a partnership with Stratech to promote iFerret.]

By incorporating the help of today’s advanced technologies in finding and removing FOD, airports can prevent many potential disasters while reducing delays and minimizing outmoded labor-intensive processes with innovative FOD detection systems to achieve optimal operational efficiencies and safety.

About the Author
Paul Brough is SITA’s director Flight Ops Applications, responsible for the global growth of SITA’s Flight Operations Portfolio. He has more than 30 years of airline flight ops and ground handling experience, and is based in Atlanta.


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