The FOD Squad

Cover Story

The FOD Squad

Fighting FOD at Chicago's O'Hare Airport is an everyday battle, but a dedicated team of airlines, ground handlers, consultants, associations, and the City of Chicago are up to the challenge, writes Michelle Garetson

By Michelle Garetson

December 2002

December cover imageChicago O'Hare AirportQuestion: What do bolts, burger wrappers, and birds have in common? Answer: They are all considered as FOD (Foreign Object Debris) in an airport setting and can cause Foreign Object Damage, also known as FOD, to aircraft and equipment. Everyday items — tools, flashlights, paperwork, gloves, gravel, metal bits — can incur extraordinary expense to repair damage caused to property as well as injuries to personnel. Foreign Object Debris can be alive too. Birds striking the airplane while both are in flight, or birds ingested into an operating engine, or even wildlife such as deer on the runway, can significantly damage the aircraft as well as cause human casualties. But, just as easily as FOD can bring operations to a screeching halt, it can, in most cases, be prevented from happening at all.

View From The Ground

Ted Sniegowski of GlobeGround
cargo roller ball & spring
Ted Sniegowski of GlobeGround

Ted Sniegowski is the Operations Manager for GlobeGround North America at Chicago's O'Hare Airport (ORD) and came over from Midwest Express Airlines to this side of the aviation fence in 2001. Sniegowski explains that GlobeGround at O'Hare, with its 450 employees, provides ramp, fuel, equipment maintenance, and warehouse services for clients that include: JAL Freighter, Nippon Cargo Airlines, Singapore Freighter, as well as O'Hare newcomer, Martinair, which just recently started flying freighter operations into Chicago. On the passenger side, the company serves KLM, Korean, Turkish Air, and Air India.

GlobeGround also handles all of the passenger busing operations for the airport's remote parking areas. The company does not provide aircraft maintenance, but Sniegowski, a former A&P technician, would like to add that service to GlobeGround-ORD's offerings.

FOD Training For Ground Handlers
"FOD training is part of the safety training," explains Sniegowski. "GlobeGround feels that FOD prevention really begins with training our employees. We get a lot of first-time airline or airport employees that have never heard the term FOD and may not understand the concept and the consequences. We spend a great deal of time on awareness programs — right down to going out to the flights and doing FOD walks with the group and the trainers and myself."

GlobeGround's new ramp agents receive 40 hours of initial safety training, and the FOD portion of the safety training focuses on FOD orientation and awareness. "As we get out to the gate," he says, "we do a lot of practical training with FOD walks. We show them how to do gate setup, which includes FOD prevention, and how to set up their equipment with beginning of the day checks, as they walk around their tug — pulling all of the garbage out of it that the previous operator may have left."

It's All InThe Mix
"This airport has more mix of vehicle traffic and aircraft than I've ever seen. The on-field facilities for freight is so limited that we have a constant flow of semi-trucks through the ramp areas and it's one of the things that we've really looked at in Chicago that is impacting our operation," claims Sniegowski. He adds that they have been pushing an initiative for FOD for about a year now and is pleased to say that a lot of it is working.

"We're seeing that our equipment is cleaner, our ramp and gates are cleaner and our employees have a better understanding of what FOD is and its impact. They're now looking for it and they bring me all sorts of little gifts saying 'Hey, look at this — put this in class.' We use these items as part of our demonstrators in training."

Sniegowski says that as no gate is any one company's — they're all multi-use gates, that FOD can come off of anyone's equipment. Common FOD is cargo roller floor balls (one in photo above is probably aircraft-based), but GlobeGround's group also sees them slightly bigger that are warehouse floor-based. Roller beds off of semi-trucks use about these same sized, one-inch bearings.

"For our employees, it's really the safety factor," he says. "When I explain that a small piece of metal destroyed a tire on a 747 and the cost of that was somewhere around $16,000, it clicks very quickly with them, how long it takes them to make $16,000. So we've really tried to personalize it. Again, part of what drives it home is not just focusing on the destructive nature FOD has on aircraft, but on their own safety potential. A cargo roller ball coming out of the jet blast of a 747 can kill someone."

The effect of Foreign Object Debris (FOD) on maintenance costs can be
significant. For example, the cost to repair a FOD-damaged aircraft engine can easily exceed $1 million. FOD can also incur extensive indirect costs, including:

• Flight delays and cancellations, leading to a loss of customers.
• Schedule disruptions caused by the need to reposition airplanes and crews.
• Potential liability because of injury.
• Additional work for airline management and staff.


GlobeGround's "Golden Bolt" FOD prevention teaching tool.

FOD Walks
GlobeGround's ramp crew performing the gate setup will do a FOD walk no more than 10 minutes and no less than 5 minutes before flight arrival. There is also a post-flight and pre-push FOD walk. Sniegowski offers that there is so much traffic on the field that anything can happen to a gate between the time the aircraft blocks in to the time of pushback. The ramp crew is FOD proactive throughout the time the aircraft is there to keep a heads up for FOD and for anything that might be blowing across the ramp. Airports, in general, are vast open areas that have a lot of wind generated by aircraft and large amounts of refuse generated by personnel and equipment. Add to this the fact that Chicago, Illinois is known as the "Windy City" and potential for wind-blown FOD becomes a bigger threat to airport traffic.

The Golden Bolt
GlobeGround at O'Hare has implemented a FOD Awareness program known as the "Golden Bolt."

"We've had a lot of fun with it and it is proving to be fairly successful in keeping the mindset in looking for FOD," claims Sniegowski. "We wanted something that was identifiable, but we also wanted something that couldn't easily become FOD by itself. We've put some procedures in place that this bolt now gets placed throughout our operation."

He adds, "We will always put it in a position where a supervisor from the training department, or myself, can observe where it is. We do not want this to become FOD and that's one of the concerns with this initially — you can't just throw this on the ramp. We always try to place it in a position at a gate before a flight so that their FOD walk gives them an opportunity to find it on a piece of equipment before beginning of operations and then we observe it to make sure it doesn't fall through the cracks. We don't want this to become a piece of FOD out there either."

He explains that his crew may place the golden bolt on a cargo ramp near some of the cargo racks. Anyone that finds the bolt brings it back to the Safety and Training department and is given a $50 gift certificate to a national retailer, with the caveat that any FOD in the area is to be picked up with the bolt.

Since April, the golden bolt has been put out on the field about two dozen times. "What we normally do is to tell them it's out there," says Sniegowski. "We've put it out on all three shifts. We've been very selective when we hear that one group may be having trouble and that their FOD walks are getting poor."

He continues, "A lot of times our aircraft groomers aren't thought of as being part of ramp operations, and they can generate a lot of FOD, but they also have the ability, like any of us, to clean up the FOD. So we've put it in a position so that our groomers have the opportunity to find it, too."

"We've enjoyed really good support from our General Manager, Dan McCrudden," says Sniegowski. "He understands the importance and has really supported the program."

Sniegowski adds that the first week in December is the next Pride in Safety week and FOD is one of the key topics that GlobeGround is addressing. GlobeGround - O'Hare is kicking off an "Odd FOD" contest, which is more of a show-and-tell for the crew to bring in pieces of FOD found during the course of their day.

ORD FOD Committee's Efforts

John Schwartz, President of Aerotec Inc., and current Chairman of ORD FOD Committee
John Schwartz,
President of Aerotec Inc., and current Chairman of ORD FOD Committee

John Schwartz, current Chairman of the O'Hare FOD Committee, is definitely a poster child for involvement on the subject of safety. Schwartz is President of Aerotec Inc., which offers engineering, consulting, and management of hangar, cargo, and baggage systems and also finds time to serve on the O'Hare Cargo Managers committee, Maintenance Managers committee, and the O'Hare Airside Safety Board.

The committee meets once a month and is made up of the following aviation sectors: ALPA (Air Line Pilots Association) has a representative, ground handling (GlobeGround), ORD Wildlife Management Department, Department of Aviation-Operations, all carriers, and food service groups. All parties are welcome who have an airside presence. The committee reviews and recommends FOD requirements for inclusion in the airport driving test and manual, as well as in construction contracts. Recommendations are made to promote awareness and control FOD to provide increased passenger and employee safety.

The committee meets to discuss global community FOD issues and methods of control. The City of Chicago Department of Aviation, in conjunction with the Mayor's office, is proactive in their support of the committee, being instrumental in acting upon the committee's recent request for FOD legislation.

The committee's goal is to provide programs, which create awareness at all levels of the various groups that access the airside area of the airport. Typical monthly meeting topics may include:

o Air Carrier employee programs.
o FOD Control in joint-use areas.
o Food service truck cleanliness.
o Problematic components or parts on airfield equipment, i.e. rollers, balls, casters, pins which become FOD.
o Handling methods that do not promote FOD.
o Ramp and general airport condition.

Birds of a feather…
…flock together, but when it's near an airport, it can be deadly for both fowl and flyers.
"You don't want to see our freezer," jokes George Lyman, General Manager, Airside Operations for the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation. "We have several specimens of birds that have flown into the path of airplanes and it isn't pretty. Our Wildlife Management Department works with governmental wildlife management staff who examine the contents of the birds' stomachs to determine the vegetation that is too tempting to these animals in order to remove that vegetation from the airport perimeters."

George Lyman, of the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation

George Lyman, of the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation.

The committee also contributes a portion of their time to O'Hare Safety Award Day, which this year included safety vendors and equipment on display at the AMC building at the airport. The 2003 Safety Award Day will be in September. The committee and the carriers are supported by the Department of Aviation-Operations group and the Operations Department uses equipment recommended by the committee and carriers to provide immediate response to FOD issues as they occur around the airport. The equipment and staff is on call 24/7, providing inspectional services and support for any calls that arise for immediate cleanup service in all areas of the airport.

As of January 1, 2003, ORD will implement a FOD Ticket program that wields a US$500 fine for violations. "The fine doubles every day until the situation is fixed," says Schwartz. "Contractors will have a FOD clause in their contracts."

George Lyman, General Manager, Airside Operations for the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation and has been involved with FOD prevention efforts since 1993. Lyman monitors the staff of 40 who are responsible for the dispatch of personnel and vehicles for the retrieval of FOD items on O'Hare's vast airfield. There are three, 8-hour shifts for 24/7/365 coverage.

Lyman explains that the City of Chicago owns equipment including sweepers and a tow-behind magnet unit that serves O'Hare. "The sweepers have a daily route to follow to keep up with metal debris. We also have 'FOD Fences' (similar to the orange, gridded snow fences) in strategic places around the airfield to catch blowing debris such as papers, bags, soda cans, etc. from making their way onto a runway or service road."

He continues, "Airlines are responsible within their lease lines, but the City can clean up an area and charge the airline for that clean up."

Lyman offers that the FAA AC's [Advisory Circulars] are sometimes used for guidance on equipment selection as to the type of specifications the FAA may find necessary. "Ease of use and speed of response are two key characteristics we look for in products," he says.

Meanwhile, the fight to eliminate FOD on O'Hare's airfield continues. With the continuous vigilance displayed by all parties, a little more ground — debris-free ground — is gained each day.