Sweep Away Your FOD Issues

Dec. 21, 2018
Picking the best equipment for FOD control means examining the issues you have on your airfield.

Huntsville International Airport (HSV) has a high volume of cargo traffic utilizing its facilities, creating unique FOD challenge for an airport its size.

Michael Ailing, operations supervisor for HSV, said the airport sees plastic wrap and parts from pallets appearing as FOD at the airport, so they work with tenants and staff to educate them on the issue and reduce debris.

“We’ve seen a decrease in the total number of FOD over the last several years,” he said. “We’ve been highlighting that to tenants as well as internally as that has been a focus area on keeping an eye on that and keeping it under control.”

HSV has two sweeper trucks to perform regular maintenance. They also purchased a FOD Master several years ago and a Victory Sweepers T600. It uses a mechanical effort to toss debris into a hopper, which he said works better with larger pieces of FOD.

Tow-behind units are a lot simpler to operate than a sweeper truck, Ailing said, making training easier. It’s being pulled by a standard pickup truck and the lack of additional noise raises situational awareness.

“Once you back the truck up, you adjust the height and it’s pretty much set to go,” he said.

Ailing said all badge employees at HSV go through driver training in non-movement area. This includes talking about retrieving FOD, reporting it and picking it up.

“We’ve got three ramps. We’ve got an air carrier ramp, a GA ramp and a cargo ramp,” he said. “So we’ve rotated between each ramp and invited everybody, all our tenants and do a FOD walk on each ramp to get an idea of what challenges each ramp has and to get out there and understand the challenges we do have with FOD.”

Ailing said to look at the type of FOD you’re seeing at your airport along with additional restraints on the airfield before considering a sweeper device.

Know your options

While FOD detection systems have come on the scene in recent years, Garth Hughes, general manager of The FOD Control Corp. said airports have been slow to adopt it due to the cost and complexity. Some airports are also hesitant to spend money on a new FOD solution before there’s already an issue.

“Until you have a large established group on which to base your purchase decisions, you’re putting yourself at risk by adopting these newer technologies,” he said.

Hughes said finding the right sweeper depends on the size of the facility, the condition of the runways, the operating environment and the criticality of the operations.

Automatic runway sweepers continue to be a popular choice for crews, he said, because they’re easy to operate, however, airport administrators are less happy with the technology.

“They tend to break down, they’re very proprietary , so fixing them is not as easy as you might think,” he said.

Hughes said FOD drag mats are still very popular with airports because there’s no maintenance and easy to use and understand. Some operators don’t like the manual process related to cleaning out the mats after use, but Hughes said it’s an incredibly effective tool compared to other cleaning technologies.

“The efficacy of friction mat sweepers still can’t be beaten by any of the other technologies,” he said. The vacuums, the rotary brushes, nothing comes close to that, especially when it comes to small FOD.”

Hughes said FOD Control Corp. continues to see friction mat style sweeper in demand in critical use scenarios, such as runways.

“Where there US military is operating extremely expensive aircraft like the B1 Lancer, they go to this technology versus any other one,” he said. “They’re trying to get 100 percent elimination of everything down to as small as possible because the cost of one FOD event is astronomical.”

Brian Giles, product manager for Schwarze Industries said air sweepers remove all materials from the flats and grooves. In comparison, magnets only remove ferrous materials and mats can push debris into grooves only to be lifted back out by the next jetwash.

“Air sweepers remove all the material from the flats and grooves,” he said. “Sweepers can also utilize air blast that cleans material from between markers that cannot be reached by magnet or mats or towed behind brooms.”

Giles said in the last five years there has been improved operator interface with sweepers and lower engine exhaust emissions. This improvement has allowed the sweeper to be more flexible and meet a wider array of tasks while being easier to operate, more comfortable for the operator, quieter and use less fuel.

When considering sweepers, he said airports need to ask if they really need a true high speed runway sweeper or can the runways be swept at lower landing and takeoff periods.

They should also determine if they’re attempting to use grant monies that require FAA high speed runway specs.

“The key to effective sweeping, whether runway, tarmac or street, is proper operator training,” Giles said. “While effective sweeping is not difficult, there are some key procedures that make the removal process extremely effective while preventing damage to the sweeper and maintaining operator safety.

Brian Singer, sales and marketing manager for Buffalo Turbine said blowers can clear taxiways and runways of FOD in two passes. Though blowers have typically been used for snow removal, some airports are turning to the technology for FOD removal because of challenges with drag mats.

“One of the challenges we hear about is these drag mats are wearing down these surfaces,” he said. “It removes the FOD, but they’re finding that it’s also grinding down the surface.”

Pick what works for you

Jonathan Mason, fleet supervisor for the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, said crews tackle the single runway at San Diego International Airport by running mechanical sweeper units from 11:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. when flights are not scheduled to arrive.

By running the sweepers side-by-side and utilizing good time management skills, Mason said they’re able to clear the entire runway in the short period of time.

“They keep getting more efficient,” he said. They’ve got big hoppers and strong suction, so we can clear a runway in a few passes and they can travel at a pretty good speed, so they’re pretty much the best equipment out there.”

Mason said San Diego has a lot of finer debris left over from ongoing construction projects that crews work on. Contractors do their own cleanup, but he said the airport makes a conscious effort to increase its efforts as well to ensure clean airfields.

“We’re located pretty close to San Diego Bay as well,” Mason said. “So in the event we have any rain, which is pretty rare, a lot of the debris that we sweep up can flow into the storm drains and into the bay, so we increase our sweeping operations around that time just to make sure nothing is going into the storm drains.”

“Our sweepers will pick up all of that,” he said.

Perryville Regional Airport in Perryville, Missouri, has seen traffic rebound in the past couple of year after a nearly five year run of being nearly dormant.

Perryville Airport Manager Barbara Maxwell said West Star Aviation took over the former Saberliner facility at the airport and is maintaining and upgrading Gulfstream IV aircraft. The city also installed a fuel farm with self-fueling and jet fuel, which has increased traffic.

“We’re seeing larger aircraft, which was kind of a concern with our runway, which was constructed in the 1940s,” she said. “We started seeing some cracking and some damage. When I took over in April, there was a significant amount of FOD.”

Maxwell said she initially did visual checks of the 7,200 feet long runway for FOD, but the process was timely and inefficient. She then used a street sweeper from the city’s public work’s department to address the issues, but that also created issues.

“They have metal bristles and actually it made more of a mess because it left metal bristles on the runway,” she said. “It looked like dipsticks for checking oil.”

Maxwell said a colleague at another airport recommended other sweepers and she eventually went with the FOD Boss, which she pulls behind a Ford Ranger.

“Along with doing some repairs to the runway, the FOD has decreased,” she said. “The runways and taxiways are all significantly cleaner now than before I got here.”

Maxwell said other airports with access to public works equipment need to consider what type of materials are being used before implementing them on the airfield. They can create more issues than helping in FOD removal.

She also recommended researching the equipment to make sure there are multiple manufacturers of the tools to make sure you’re investing in the best product for your needs. Do backgrounds and reviews of the equipment on the market and also try to get a demo piece to test out before making an investment.

“I’m not the only one for airports who doesn’t have a type of sweeper or street sweeper. They’re doing it the way I do it, which is driving up and down and trying to collect FOD,” she said.