Foreign Object Debris and Damage Prevention

Foreign object debris (FOD) at airports can cause damage that costs airlines, airports, and airport tenants millions of dollars every year. FOD is any object that does not belong in or near airplanes and, as a result, can injure airport or airline personnel and damage airplanes. A FOD-prevention program of training, facility inspection, maintenance, and coordination between all affected parties can minimize FOD and its effects.

Foreign object debris (FOD) at airports includes any object found in an inappropriate location that -- as a result of being in that location -- can damage equipment or injure airplane or airport personnel. The resulting damage is estimated to cost the aerospace industry $4 billion a year. Airports, airlines, and airport tenants can reduce this cost by taking steps to prevent airport FOD.FOD includes a wide range of material, including loose hardware, pavement fragments, catering supplies, building materials, rocks, sand, pieces of luggage, and even wildlife. FOD is found at terminal gates, cargo aprons, taxiways, runways, and run-up pads. It causes damage through direct contact with airplanes, such as by cutting airplane tires or being ingested into engines, or as a result of being thrown by jet blast and damaging airplanes or injuring people.

A program to control airport FOD is most effective when it addresses four main areas:

1 Training.
2 Inspection by airline, airport, and airplane handling agency personnel.
3 Maintenance.
4 Coordination.

All airport and airline personnel and airport tenants should receive training in the identification and elimination of FOD, including the potential consequences of ignoring it. This training can supplement the general FOD awareness incorporated into the airside driver-training curriculum at many airports. FOD training for flight crews includes following the recommended procedures identified in the Flight Crew Operating Manual and pre- and postflight inspection procedures covered during line training.

Effective training should stress safety to personnel and passengers, the hazards to equipment, the direct costs associated with FOD damage, and the indirect costs associated with flight delays and rescheduling. It should also include procedures for removing and eliminating FOD at its source, and should be reinforced through the use of posters and signs. Recurrent training is necessary to help maintain an awareness of FOD.

Airline personnel, when feasible, should join the airport staff in daily airside inspections. This practice helps increase familiarity with local airfield conditions, and promotes effective communication between the airport and airlines.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) require a daily, daylight inspection of airplane maneuvering areas and removal of FOD. In addition to performing these inspections at the beginning of the day or shift, personnel on the airside should look for FOD during their normal shifts.

Ongoing construction requires more frequent inspections. It may even be necessary to assign dedicated personnel to continually inspect for FOD during major construction activities. Flight crews should report to air traffic control and station operations any FOD they observe on runways and taxiways. Airlines and airplane handling agents should designate individuals to inspect gate areas prior to airplane movement to and from the gate.

Maintaining control of FOD includes using several methods:

Sweeping. Sweeping may be done manually or with the airfield sweeper, which is the most effective equipment for removing FOD from airsides. The sweeper removes debris from cracks and pavement joints, and should be used in all areas except for those that can be reached only with a hand broom. All airside areas, including aircraft maneuvering areas, aprons and gates and the areas adjacent to them, should be swept routinely. The areas in which ground support equipment (GSE) is staged should be swept periodically.

Magnetic bars. These bars can be suspended beneath tugs and trucks to pick up metallic material. However, the bars should be cleaned regularly to prevent them from dropping the collected debris. Vehicles operating on the airside should be inspected periodically to ensure that they have no loose items that can fall off.

Rumble strips. Driving over rumble strips dislodges FOD from vehicle undercarriages. The strips, which are 10 to 15 ft long, can be moved and used at transitions from the landside to the airside, or adjacent to airside construction areas.

FOD containers. These containers should be placed at all gates for the collection of debris. The containers should be emptied frequently to prevent them from overflowing and becoming a source of FOD themselves. In addition, airport personnel can wear waist pouches to collect debris. Evaluating the debris collected in containers and pouches can reveal its sources and indicate where personnel and equipment should be deployed for more effective control.

Other means for preventing FOD damage include wind barriers and netting to restrict the movement of airborne FOD, fencing to prevent animals from entering the airfield, and well-maintained paved surfaces. If damaged pavement cannot be repaired immediately, airplanes should take an alternate route.

Airports with a FOD committee of airport tenant representatives tend to control FOD more successfully than those without such a committee because the representatives can address local conditions and specific problems. At airports served by multiple airlines, the airlines should have these representatives as well as an airport user's committee to coordinate FOD control efforts among themselves.

Both airside and landside construction activities, as well as scheduled maintenance, should be communicated to airport users as early as possible. Airport preconstruction planning should include a means for controlling and containing FOD generated by the construction. This is especially true in high-wind environments where debris is more likely to become airborne. Access to and from construction sites should avoid areas of aircraft operation. Contractors must fully understand the requirements and penalties incorporated in their contracts regarding the control and removal of FOD.

FAA Advisory Circulars 150/5380-5B, Debris Hazards at Civil Airports, and 150/5370-2C, Operational Safety on Airports During Construction, provide excellent guidelines for coordinating day-to-day FOD prevention during construction.

An effective debris-control program can greatly reduce the high cost of FOD damage and the potential for injury to personnel. The program is founded on initial and recurring training, and it is carried out through the inspection and maintenance of airport facilities. FOD control is most effective when all affected parties coordinate their efforts.


Boeing is available to perform an operational FOD audit upon request. The audit provides an independent review of existing conditions, and results in recommendations for enhanced debris control. It includes a review of maintenance and servicing procedures, installation of recommended service bulletins, a review of flight crew operating procedures, and an inspection of the airport operating environment, including FOD-avoidance procedures used by ramp and airport personnel.Operators may use audit findings to develop corrective procedures and training programs, and to improve coordination between operators, airport personnel, and airport tenants.


The effect of Foreign Object Debris (FOD) on maintenance costs can be significant. For example, the cost to repair a FOD-damaged 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.

The cost of repairing FOD damage to an engine can easily exceed 20 percent of its original purchase price.

Purchase cost of MD-11 engine $8-10 million
Purchase cost of MD-80 engine $3-4 million
MD-11 engine overhaul to correct FOD damage $500,000-1.6 million
MD-80 engine overhaul to correct FOD damage $250,000-1.0 million
MD-11 fan blades (per set*) $25,000
MD-80 fan blades (per set*) $7,000
*Fan blades are balanced and replaced as a set.


The two main parties with a role in preventing foreign object debris (FOD) and the potential resulting damage are airports and airlines.

Airports. Regulatory agencies define the responsibility of airports serving scheduled airlines. Regulations defined by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for U.S. airlines differ from those defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for other countries.

FAA Part 139.305(a)(4) states, "except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, mud, dirt, sand, loose aggregate, debris, foreign objects, rubber deposits and other contaminants shall be removed promptly and as completely as practicable." FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-30A, Airport Winter Safety and Operations, specifies cleanup requirements for sand applied during winter operations.

ICAO Annex 14 Recommendation, Pavements-paragraph 9.4.2 states, "The surface of pavements (runways, taxiways, aprons, etc.) should be kept clear of any loose stones or other objects that might cause damage to airplane structures or engines, or impair the operation of airplane systems." The regulatory agencies of many countries have adopted this statement by ICAO as a requirement.

Airlines. Airlines and airport tenants generate much of the FOD found in gate areas, service roads, baggage makeup areas, and areas near flight kitchens. Agreements between airlines and their support organizations should specify which of the parties are responsible for cleaning various areas.


Foreign object debris (FOD) comes from many sources. The most common are:

Airport infrastructure. The deterioration, maintenance, and construction of the airport infrastructure can contribute to FOD. For example, pieces of concrete can break loose from holes in pavement or from fatigue corner cracks, and building materials can fall from construction vehicles or be blown from gate areas onto airplane maneuvering areas. Broken pieces of pavement can collect at the edge of the gate area and be carried onto the airplane maneuvering area by the tires of vehicular ground support equipment (GSE). Service roads that cross taxiways should be monitored closely to prevent the vehicles using these roads from moving FOD onto the taxiways.

Normal aircraft operations. Refueling, catering, cabin cleaning, and baggage and cargo handling can produce broken materials. Baggage pieces, including bag tags and wheels, can break off luggage and either fall onto the apron or collect in the door sill. Items collected in the door sill can damage the door or prevent it from fully sealing. They can also be knocked out of the sills and onto the apron at the next station. Other areas where FOD is likely to collect include the ground at both ends of the conveyor, and the area between the baggage cart and the conveyor belt.

Maintenance activities at the gate require a variety of small objects, such as rivets, safety wire, and bolts, that become FOD when they are inadvertently left behind. An effective tool control program will reduce the number of missing hand tools.

FOD typically peaks during the early spring, when airports often begin construction activities, and during the winter because of operations in snow and ice. Issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Advisory Circular 150/5200-30A, Airport Winter Safety and Operations, contains specific guidance on using and removing sand to minimize its chances of becoming FOD in winter weather conditions.

Aft galley catering operations through the aft main deck door can be a potential FOD hazard to a rear-mounted No. 1 engine not protected by an inlet cover. Without the cover, catering supplies can be set down in the engine intake, where they can be inadvertently left behind. These supplies can also fall or spill their contents into an unprotected engine.

FOD can collect both on and below ground support equipment stored or staged adjacent to the gate area. Jet blast can then blow FOD onto personnel or an airplane. It can also create runway FOD when an airplane transitions from a 150-ft-wide runway onto a 75-ft-wide taxiway (figure 3). Outboard engines blow any loose dirt and materials from the shoulder and infield areas back onto the runway. Also, the outboard engines of four-engine airplanes can move debris from the runway edge and shoulder areas, where it tends to accumulate, back toward the center of the runway or taxiway.

Helicopters that maneuver over freshly mowed or loose-dirt infield areas can also move FOD onto runways, taxiways, and ramps. In addition, the rotor wash from a helicopter can propel lightweight GSE or materials staged nearby.

Personal belongings. Pens, coins, identification badges, hats, soda cans, paperwork, and any other object that airport or airline personnel carry can become FOD if inadvertently left in an inappropriate location.

Brad Bachtel
Senior Staff Engineer
Airport Technology Office
Douglas Products Division

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