FOD Prevention In Aviation: Getting Started

Preventing FOD Incidents At Your Airport

Although everyone working airside has the responsibility to eliminate FOD, each area within an airport operations environment has its own unique characteristics. New FOD Prevention Program managers must first identify all the hazardous areas and become familiar with the activities of the personnel working in those areas. Only then can they begin to develop tactics to eliminate aviation FOD threats in each sector.

1 – Management’s Strong and Visible Commitment

Clean As You PosterThe success of any program requires the demonstrated commitment of management representing the air carriers and servicing companies. Awareness of the FOD hazard among all the staff and management can be increased with these steps:

  • FOD presentations should be included as a key part of the orientation of all new employees.
  • Photos and announcements of “Good Housekeeping Award” winners should be publicized on the intranet and in any other publications available at the facility.
  • FOD Awareness Posters should be posted at all exit doors to the airside.
  • FOD Walks” should include both management and staff of the airport, airlines, and airline servicing companies.

Your programs will gain authority if management “walks the talk” and sets a high standard for compliance.

Airports, military operations and manufacturing facilities deal with similar challenges. The ramp operations of most FBOs (Fixed Base Operators) and the major courier companies directly reflect the corporate attitude towards a FOD free environment.

Military bases generally have thorough anti-FOD programs. One major key to their success is the very simple fact that senior grade officers are made responsible for oversight and ongoing results of the military FOD Prevention Program. This provides the necessary level of command support for the message to filter down through the ranks by way of junior officers and NCOs tasked with executing the day-to-day activities of the program.

An airport FOD prevention program must have the same solid support from the top down, including willingness by upper management to devote the necessary resources to effectively operate the program.

2 – Local FOD Committees

Unlike military bases, FBOs and courier operations, airport management does not directly control each organization operating in leased space or common use areas. Therefore, an effective FOD Prevention committee is essential to develop and ensure cooperation in the implementation of solutions to FOD problems.

For example, Chicago O’Hare has a FOD Handling and Trash Plan that was developed by their local FOD committee. The Plan was published on their website at one point and set out goals and methods for the control of FOD and trash.

An official website based policy is an excellent method for insuring that standards of performance and compliance are posted, understood and readily accessible to all airport tenants. This method makes it easy to update written standards as your program evolves.

Representatives should be in a position within their companies to carry the message and implement solutions. At smaller airports where it may not be practical to have a dedicated committee for FOD Prevention, it can be assigned to a related committee such as Ramp Safety.

3 – Housekeeping Performance Standards

FOD Free Poster

In spite of the best prevention program, FOD is an expected product of airport operations. FOD HAPPENS. Therefore it is imperative that procedures and resources are dedicated to regularly patrol operating areas to be absolutely sure that the surfaces are FOD free.

In most cases, this task falls to the airside maintenance crews. Regular sweeping can be effective, but hand picking may be required as well. It’s simply a fact of aviation life. Train your new (and old) personnel to “Just get used to it, it’s part of the job.”

Towed magnets pick up ferrous material but can become a hazard if they are not cleaned regularly. Small all-terrain vehicles (see photo) have been used with great success to patrol the aprons and infield areas. They can easily pull a tow-behind sweeper while driving. In most cases these tasks are carried out by the airfield maintenance crews, but at some airports dedicated contractors regularly FOD patrol apron and gate areas.

Conveniently located containers are essential for your FOD Prevention effort. It is difficult to convince ramp personnel to pick up FOD if they must walk long distances to deposit it in a container. But an overflowing container becomes a threat in itself, so prominently display a phone number for pick-up on the containers. When a call comes in, a contractor is promptly dispatched to empty the barrel.

The same principles apply to ramp garbage containers. The dumpsters must be sized right, have easily closed lids and be placed in convenient locations. And, the collection schedule must be frequent enough to handle the volume.

Dedicated containers for small items should be as close to the work areas as possible. For example, many airports have a FOD container on each passenger loading bridge.

An abundance of securely lidded and correctly sized FOD containers, with all airside personnel properly trained to use them for all debris, and a frequent schedule to have them emptied will become one of the most important and effective components in your FOD Prevention Program. The importance of this simple idea and the activities related to its ongoing completion cannot be understated. Don’t permit it to go undone.

Prompt, cheerful attention to the maintenance and emptying of containers is one of the key signals that airside personnel use to assess management’s commitment to the FOD Prevention in Aviation Program.

Airports can learn from the example set by theme parks such as Disneyland. These parks host thousands of visitors every day and yet their grounds are immaculate!

How do they do it? They do it with convenient containers and enough dedicated resources to ensure that the containers never overflow. Resources are conveniently accessible to pick up anything loose.

In other words, a zero tolerance for FOD and sufficient resources to meet this goal!

4 – Training and Awareness

miniposter3fThis may seem redundant, but all employees in 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. Be sure everyone gets the word! Then tell them again — at regularly scheduled training sessions. Orientation courses should include videos that promote FOD Prevention and show examples of damage that can result from failures to adequately protect aircraft and personnel.

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.

Many incentives can be used to motivate companies and their employees to participate. Use your imagination! Be creative to generate rewards that people perceive as desirable. Don’t demean their efforts by offering trinkets. Get them on board with awards that are worth working for.

How about gift certificates to airport area gift shops or restaurants? Ask several businesses to donate something on a rotating basis and in return give them all some free ongoing promotion around the airport, congratulating them for their support and public service. Get their names out to your people and everyone wins. It’s good business for them and you.

5 – Selection and Maintenance of Ground Support and Airfield Maintenance Equipment

Airfield maintenance equipment should be suitable for airport use. For example; runway sweepers that shed metal bristles can create a FOD problem instead of solving it.

Parking lot sweepers and are generally not sturdy enough to stand up to apron cleaning. Other sweepers may not be effective in picking up stones and small bits of metal. Do research before you purchase and remember that you most often get what you pay for.

You cannot assume that because a sweeper looks like it’s running it’s doing a good job. It may create sound and fury and miss picking up dangerous debris. It is not unusual for these machines to be in substandard operating condition.

Every sweeper (and its operator for that matter) must be inspected, maintained and evaluated regularly. Some measure of performance must be established locally to insure that the job is getting done right. A good rule is to stay simple whenever possible to reduce maintenance and operational complications.

6 – Airport Construction Projects


Virtually all construction projects on an airport are likely to create a FOD problem.

Contracts must include FOD control as a condition of work and there must be a monitoring program to ensure these obligations are met.

Special attention must be paid to any material that can be blown onto the airside, and to debris that can be carried by vehicles from the job site onto an operating surface.

Airport operators must be prepared to promptly shut down an offending job site until satisfactory FOD control is in place.

The following requirements are taken from a contract that included excavation and paving on the airside of an airport:

Special Conditions:

  • The contractor shall not place debris or dirt on runways, taxiways, aprons or aircraft maneuvering areas.
  • The contractor shall keep FAA compliant equipment available on-site to perform clean up when required.
  • The contractor shall promptly, within two hours of receiving notice, clean up and remove dirt and debris at no cost to the Airport Authority. All sand, aggregates, soil or other materials in place (or in stockpiles) must be kept wetted, confined, covered or contained to prevent materials from being blown or washed onto runway and taxiway areas.
  • Failure to comply will result in the Airport Authority arranging for Other Contractors to do the work and the costs shall be borne by the Contractor. All clean up must be completed within the designated airside work hours, and all equipment removed off airside by the end of the approved work period.

Site Cleanliness:

  • Site cleanliness is a matter of utmost importance. Loose debris and unprotected granular materials exposed to engine and/or jet blast can be ingested into aircraft engines or cause damage to tires. Damage to aircraft can cause costly repairs, delay to flights and compromise the safety of the flying public as well as airline employees and operations personnel.
  • The Contractor must maintain the site in immaculate condition. It will not be acceptable to allow waste to accumulate before cleanup is undertaken. All lunchroom waste shall be contained to discourage birds and rodents. When work immediately adjacent to aircraft operations areas is performed, the adjacent operations areas must be absolutely clean and clear of debris at all times during and after the work shift. When an area is closed for the purposes of work on or near aircraft operating surfaces, the area must be clean and clear of all debris and the area must be adequately protected prior to turning the area back to Operations.
  • All work must be adequately protected at the edges of taxiways and aprons by the end of each working shift and at all times during the course of the work.
  • In the event of any such act, omission or thing or absence of such precaution by the Contractor is observed by the Consultant or the Airport Authority, the Consultant or the Airport Authority may immediately take or order such remedial action as it may deem necessary and for this purpose, it may stop the Work or any part thereof and may use the Airport Authority’s or the Contractor’s or any Subcontractor’s or any other Con- tractor’s employees to perform any remedial measures it may seem necessary. The Consultant or the Airport Authority shall give the Contractor notice of any such work stoppage or remedial measures or any further remedial measures, as it may deem necessary. The cost of such work stoppage and of any such remedial measures, whether performed by the Airport Authority, Subcontractor’s or Other Contractor’s employees or by the Contractor or its employees shall be to the Contractor’s account.

The project’s consulting engineers and airport Operations Duty Managers monitor the Contractors actions and inspect work sites prior to returning an operating area to service. As a general rule your FOD Program’s actions checklist should include a construction site inspection procedure. This should cover the method and message for communicating any site cleanliness deficiencies that are discovered, and a “check back” scheduled to insure these have been remedied.

7 – Motivating Construction Crews to Understand FOD Threats

miniposter3bVisiting workers won’t respect the potential threats involved with their debris unless you educate them. Invest the time to have an airport representative show videos and emphasize the need for constant attention to this problem. Carpentry and masonry crews, steelworkers and others will be more willing to help you control FOD if they understand. It may not be possible to “teach” everyone, but briefing supervisors and management should improve general participation in FOD Prevention.

Offsite construction projects may pose a threat. Monitor nearby activities and if, for example, a multistory building produces windblown paper, wood scraps, etc., you can take steps to get them aware of your problem. If education/persuasion doesn’t do the job, you may decide to bring in the municipal authorities to support your position. An aircraft brought down from FOD — wherever the cause originated — still usually falls in the surrounding city.

8 – Monitoring and Inspection

In an imperfect world there are people who fail to comply with the principles of FOD Prevention. Operations must inspect continuously to ensure that any material that does get loose is captured. Offending persons or organizations can be persuaded to change their ways.

On maneuvering surfaces, inspections should detect any cracking or early signs of break-up so that repairs can take place immediately when potholes appear. In keeping with the statement “you cannot manage what you cannot measure,” records must be kept of inspection results and any FOD damage.

Although it is impossible to measure accidents that did not happen because of a FOD Prevention Plan, measures such as a “FOD Survey” and pilot reports of FOD can be used to assess the effectiveness of the Prevention Program.

Record keeping can be incorporated in the normal airport “Log” or in a diary of events. The easiest way to track events is to create an event category for FOD incidents in the airport database. Reports can then be prepared to compare year over year effects of the FOD Prevention in aviation efforts.

Trends or repeat offenders can be identified and strategies such as fines, moral persuasion, and embarrassment used to remove a continuing hazard. Non-responsive offenders must be treated as a serious threat to your operation.

9 – Seasonal Consideration

If your airport is in the northern latitudes, winter months bring added hazards. Rows of ice and snow along the edges of taxiways and runways created by snowplowing can be ingested by the low-slung engines of jet aircraft and can damage propellers if aircraft attempt to taxi through drifts. Winter plowing plans must ensure that wind-rows are cleared or blown far enough back from the taxiways and runways to eliminate the hazard. Inspections by the airside managers must be carried out before the surfaces are opened to operation.