The Basics of Foreign Object Debris

Feb. 1, 2023
How to determine what FOD is, common types of FOD and effective ways to spread awareness at your facility.
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What is FOD? As defined in FAA AC 150/5210-24, Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Management, FOD is “any object, live or not, located in an inappropriate location in the airport environment that has the capacity to injure airport or carrier personnel and damage aircraft.”  

Types of FOD 

Per FAA AC 150/5210-24, “FOD comes from many sources, which complicates efforts to maintain safe airfield operations. FOD can be generated from personnel, airport infrastructure (pavements, lights and signs), the environment (wildlife, snow, ice) and the equipment operating on the airfield (aircraft, airport operations vehicles, maintenance equipment, fueling trucks, other aircraft servicing equipment and construction equipment).” 

FOD can be more common when airports undergo construction activities, but it can also occur through daily activities. Because FOD can collect both on and below ground support equipment, jet blast can blow FOD onto personnel or an aircraft.  

“Jet blasts can also create runway FOD when an aircraft transitions from a large-width runway onto a smaller-width taxiway,” FAA officials say. “Outboard engines blow any loose dirt and materials from the shoulder and infield areas onto the runway.” 

Weather can also be the cause of FOD, especially in winter conditions as aging pavement infrastructure may be influenced by freeze and thaw cycles and begin to crack or break apart. 

“Wind can blow dry debris, such as sand or plastic bags, from relatively non-critical areas onto the flight area,” FAA officials note. “Rain water and drainage can stream mud, pebbles and other small items along the path of least resistance. Awareness of weather-related sources of FOD movement helps civil engineers to design barriers and other structures properly.” 

FOD Awareness  

According to the FAA, “types of potential damage include: cutting aircraft tires; being ingested into engines; or becoming lodged in mechanisms affecting flight operations. Personnel injuries or even death can occur when jet blast propels FOD through the airport environment at high velocities.” 

FOD awareness begins with understanding what FOD is and knowing how to prevent, detect and safely remove these objects. 

“The presence of FOD is a continuing concern at our nation’s airports. FOD creates safety hazards and can ultimately impact safe operations by damaging aircraft,” FAA officials say. 

A first step in implementing a successful FOD management program is awareness of the program’s existence.  

“An airport’s FOD management system should be visible in all aspects of the airport operation,” FAA officials say. “Improvements in FOD safety will occur most efficiently if all airport personnel are actively encouraged to identify potential FOD hazards, act to remove observed FOD and propose solutions to mitigate those hazards.” 

What Does an Effective FOD Program Look Like? 

According to FAA AC 150/5210-24, “an effective FOD program must have the full support of management. Management’s commitment to FOD prevention should be formally expressed in a statement of the organization’s FOD policy. The statement will serve to formally establish the FOD management program. Posting this policy statement in conspicuous locations will help reinforce the organization’s commitment to FOD prevention and help remind employees of their FOD management duties.” 

Beyond that, an effective program requires more than the implementation of rules and procedures to be followed.  

“It requires the support of management to establish the attitude, decisions, and methods of operation at the policy-making level that demonstrate the organization's priority to safety,” FAA officials note. “In effective safety cultures, there are clear reporting lines, clearly defined duties and well understood procedures. Personnel fully understand their responsibilities and know what to report, to whom and when. Though it is an intangible aspect of a safety program, proper personal attitudes and corporate commitment enable or facilitate the elimination of unsafe acts and conditions that are the precursors to accidents and incidents.” 

According to the FOD Control Corporation all employees at an airport must be trained about the hazards of FOD and the importance of FOD control.  

“If this is done properly and continuously it will become the keystone that can make the rest of your FOD Program go well,” the company says.  

Training and awareness suggestions from the FOD Control Corporation include:  

  • Keep the message coming and keep it fresh. Poster campaigns and email newsletter articles reinforce the message. Aviation industry magazines and websites publish articles about FOD Prevention with ideas that can be used or passed on. 

  • Events such as FOD walks and spring cleanups illustrate the importance of prevention. Activities such as these provide a perfect and very specific opportunity for senior management to demonstrate ongoing commitment to this issue through their own spirited participation. Get face-to-face and work alongside your people. Remember that recognition programs for personnel or organizations that contribute to FOD Prevention are a way to reward good housekeeping practices.