Foreign object damage

Foreign object damage
FOD to the compressor blades of a Honeywell LTS101 turboshaft engine on a Bell 222, caused by a small bolt that passed through the protective inlet screen.
FOD deflection system on a PT6T installed on a Bell 412. Air enters from upper right, and pure air follows the curved ramp down to the turbine inlet (also covered by a screen). Any debris being sucked in will have enough momentum that it will not make such a sharp bend, and will hit the screen on the upper left, and will be carried out to the left, getting blown overboard.
Potential foreign object debris found and rescued from the wheel well of an F/A-18 Hornet on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is a substance, debris or article alien to a vehicle or system which would potentially cause damage.

Foreign Object Damage (also abbreviated FOD) is any damage attributed to a foreign object that can be expressed in physical or economic terms that may or may not degrade the product's required safety and/or performance characteristics. Typically, FOD is an aviation term used to describe debris on or around an aircraft or damage done to an aircraft.[1] Foreign Object Damage is any damage attributed to a foreign object (i.e. any object that is not part of the vehicle) that can be expressed in physical or economic terms and may or may not degrade the product's required safety or performance characteristics. FOD is an abbreviation often used in aviation to describe both the damage done to aircraft by foreign objects, and the foreign objects themselves.[2]

"Internal FOD" is used to refer to damage or hazards caused by foreign objects inside the aircraft. For example, "Cockpit FOD" might be used to describe a situation where an item gets loose in the cockpit and jams or restricts the operation of the controls. "Tool FOD" is a serious hazard caused by tools left inside the aircraft after manufacturing or servicing. Tools or other items can get tangled in control cables, jam moving parts, short out electrical connections, or otherwise interfere with safe flight. Aircraft maintenance teams usually have strict tool control procedures including toolbox inventories to make sure all tools have been removed from an aircraft before it is released for flight. Tools used during manufacturing are tagged with a serial number so if they are found they can be traced.

The "Damage" term was prevalent in military circles, but has since been pre-empted by a definition of FOD that looks at the "debris". This shift was made "official" in the latest FAA Advisory Circulars FAA A/C 150/5220-24 'Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Detection Equipment' (2009) and FAA A/C 150/5210-24 'Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Management'. Eurocontrol, ECAC, and the ICAO have all rallied behind this new definition. As Iain McCreary of Insight SRI put it in a presentation to NAPFI (August 2010), "You can have debris present without damage, but never damage without debris." Likewise, FOD prevention systems work by sensing and detecting not the damage but the actual debris. Thus FOD is now taken to mean the debris itself, and the resulting damage is referred to as "FOD damage".

Internationally, FOD costs the aviation industry US$13 billion per year in direct plus indirect costs. The indirect costs are as much as ten times the indirect cost value, representing delays, aircraft changes, incurred fuel costs, unscheduled maintenance, and the like for a total of $13 billion per year[3] and causes expensive, significant damage to aircraft and parts and death and injury to workers, pilots and passengers.

It is estimated that FOD costs major airlines in the United States $26 per flight in aircraft repairs, plus $312 in such additional indirect costs as flight delays, plane changes and fuel inefficiencies.[4]

"There are other costs that are not as easy to calculate but are equally disturbing," according to UK Royal Air Force Wing Commander and FOD researcher Richard Friend.[5] "From accidents such as the Air France Concorde, Flight AF 4590,[6] there is the loss of life, suffering and effect on the families of those who died, the suspicion of malpractice, guilt, and blame that could last for lifetimes. This harrowing torment is incalculable but should not be forgotten, ever. If everyone kept this in mind, we would remain vigilant and forever prevent foreign object debris from causing a problem. In fact, many factors combine to cause a chain of events that can lead to a failure."

In the United States, the most prominent gathering of FOD experts has been the annual National Aerospace FOD Prevention Conference. It is hosted in a different city each year by National Aerospace FOD Prevention, Inc. (NAFPI), a nonprofit association that focuses on FOD education, awareness and prevention. Conference information, including presentations from past conferences, is available at the NAFPI Web site.[2] However, NAFPI has come under some critique as being focussed on tool control and manufacturing processes, and other members of the industry have stepped forward to fill the gaps. BAA hosted the world's first airport-led conference on the subject in November 2010 .[7]



Examples of FOD include:[8]

  • Aircraft parts, rocks, broken pavement, ramp equipment, and vehicle parts: Damage usually occurs when the aircraft is taking off or landing. The intake suction from a jet engine is powerful enough to suck up loose material lying on the runway, and the winds created by a helicopter or prop-driven aircraft's rotors or by a jet blast can send such objects airborne, creating hazards to nearby personnel. One way to counter this is to install a gravelkit, which exist for certain planes like the early Boeing 737.
  • Parts from ground vehicles
  • Garbage, maintenance tools, etc. mistakenly or purposely deposited on tarmac and/or runway surfaces.
  • Hail: can break windshields and damage or stop engines.
  • Ice on the wings, propellers, or engine intakes
  • Dust or ash clogging the air intakes (as in sandstorms in desert operating conditions or ash clouds in volcanic eruptions). For helicopters, this is also a major problem during a brownout.
  • Tools, bolts, metal shavings, lockwire, etc. mistakenly left behind inside aircraft during the manufacturing process or maintenance.

Generally speaking, bird strikes (when an aeroplane flies into a bird, the impact can cause severe damage from a bird striking the fuselage, engine, etc.) are not considered to be FOD strikes, unless the bird or wildlife was already dead and lying on the operating surface when the strike occurred. Bird strikes are treated separately[citation needed].

All aircraft occasionally lose small metal or carbon parts during takeoff and landing. These parts remain on the runway and can cause damage to tires of other aircraft, hit the fuselage or windshield/canopy, or get sucked up into an engine. Although airport ground crews regularly clean up runways, the crash of Air France Flight 4590 demonstrated that accidents can still occur: in that case, the crash was said to have been caused by debris left by a flight that had departed only four minutes earlier.

A Foreign Object Damage walk down aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67).

On aircraft carriers, as well as military and some civilian airfields, sweeps are conducted before flight operations begin. A line of crewmen walk shoulder to shoulder along the flight operations surfaces, searching for and removing any foreign objects. The objects removed are often also referred to as "FOD" although they have not caused any damage. In this context a more appropriate translation of the acronym would be "foreign objects and debris".

Jet engine design and FOD

Modern jet engines suffer major damage due to even small birds being sucked into the engine. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires that all engine types pass a test which includes firing a fresh chicken (dead, but not frozen) into a running jet engine from a small cannon. The engine does not have to remain functional after the test, but it must not cause significant damage to the rest of the aircraft. Thus, if the bird strike causes it to "throw a blade" (break apart in a way where parts fly off at high speed), doing so must not cause loss of the aircraft.[9] A chicken gun is used to perform experiments on bird strikes.

Engine and airframe designs which avoid FOD

Some military aircraft have a unique design to prevent FOD from damaging the engine. The design consisted of an S-shaped bend in the airflow, so that air entered the inlet, was bent back towards the front of the plane, and bent back again towards the back before entering the engine. At the back of the first bend a strong spring held a door shut. Any foreign object flying in the intake flew in, hit the door, opened it, flew through, and then exited the aircraft. Thus, only small objects swept up by the air could enter the engine. This design did indeed prevent FOD problems, but the constriction and drag induced by the bending of the airflow reduced the engine's effective power, and thus the design was not repeated. However, many consider it an innovative solution to a challenging engineering problem.

The Russian MiG-29 fighter has a special engine design to prevent ingestion of FOD during take-off from rough airfields. The front air intakes could be closed and special inlets on the top of the plane temporarily opened. This would allow enough airflow to the engine for take-off but reduced the chances of the engine sucking up objects from the ground.

Another interesting design to minimize the risk of FOD is the Antonov An-74 which has a very high placement of the engines.

Boeing offered a gravel runway kit for early 737s that allows the plane to be used from unimproved and gravel runways. This kit included gravel deflectors on the landing gear; foldaway lights on the bottom of the plane; and screens that prevented gravel, entering the open wheelwells when the gear was extended, from hitting critical components. It also included vortex dissipators, devices that would reduce the airflow into the engine from the bottom so as to reduce the likelihood of ingesting gravel.[10][11]

Airbus are investigating a novel approach to reducing FOD. By developing, in conjunction with Ricardo plc, the "Taxibot", a tractor controlled by the pilot, aircraft will not need to use jet engines while taxiing, so will not be vulnerable to FOD on aprons or taxiways.[12]

FOD damage examples

Runway debris

The crash of a Concorde, Air France Flight 4590, at Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris on 25 July 2000 was caused by FOD; in this case a piece of titanium debris on the runway which had been part of a thrust reverser which fell from a Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 that had taken off about four minutes earlier. All 100 passengers and nine crew on board the flight, as well as four people on the ground, were killed.

A Bombardier Learjet 36A, was taking off from Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport Va., on March 26, 2007, when the crew heard a loud “pop”. Aborting the takeoff, the crew tried to control the “fishtailing” and activate the drag chute. The chute did not work and the Learjet ran off the runway, its tires blown. Airport personnel reported seeing rocks and pieces of metal on the runway, after the accident. The NTSB said that the Learjet accident was caused by Foreign Object Debris (FOD) on the runway. Failure of the drag chute contributed to the accident.[citation needed]

Volcanic ash

On 24 June 1982, British Airways Flight 9 on route to Perth, Australia, flew into a volcanic ash cloud over the Indian Ocean. The Boeing 747-200B suffered engine surges in all four engines until they all failed. The passengers and crew could see a phenomenon known as St. Elmo's fire around the plane. Flight 9 dived down until it exited the cloud allowing the airborne ash to clear the engines, which were then restarted. The cockpit windshield was badly pitted by the ash particles but the aircraft landed safely.

Item jettisoned from aircraft

An unusual case of FOD occurred on 28 September 1981 over Chesapeake Bay. During flight testing of an F/A-18 Hornet, the Naval Air Test Center of the United States Navy was using a Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk as a chase plane to film a jettison test of a bomb rack from the Hornet. The bomb rack struck the right wing of the Skyhawk, shearing off almost half the wing. The Skyhawk caught fire within seconds of being struck; the two persons on board ejected.[13][14]

Bird strikes

On 20 November 1975 a Hawker Siddeley HS.125 taking off at Dunsfold Aerodrome flew through a flock of Northern Lapwings immediately after lifting off the runway and lost power in both engines. The crew landed the aircraft back on the runway but it overran the end and crossed a road. The aircraft struck a car on the road, killing its six occupants. Although the aircraft was destroyed in the ensuing fire, the nine occupants of the aircraft survived the crash.[15]

On 17 November 1980 a Hawker Siddeley Nimrod of the Royal Air Force crashed shortly after taking off from RAF Kinloss. It flew through a flock of Canada geese, causing three of its four engines to fail. The pilot and copilot were killed; the pilot was subsequently posthumously awarded an Air Force Cross for his actions in maintaining control of the aircraft and saving the lives of the 18 crew. The remains of 77 birds were found on or near the runway.[16][17]

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 flew into a flock of Canada geese and suffered a double engine failure. The pilot ditched the aircraft in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all on board.

Wildlife and wetlands near airports

Significant problems occur with airports where the grounds were or have become nesting areas for birds. While fences can prevent a moose or deer from wandering onto a runway, birds are more difficult to control. Often airports employ a type of bird scarer that operates on propane to cause a noise loud enough to scare away any birds that might be in the vicinity. Airport managers use any means available (including trained falcons) to reduce bird populations. Another solution under investigation is the use of artificial turf near runways, since it does not offer food, shelter, or water to wildlife.[18]

FOD Awareness and Training


The FOD "bible" was written by Gary Chaplin, Founder and President of The F.O.D. Control Corporation,[19] “Promoting a FOD Program is essentially a public relations campaign. Even if other elements of effective FOD Prevention are not in place, a good Promotion and Awareness Program can significantly help reduce FOD by engaging a workforce with information, feedback and involvement.”

According to Chaplin’s handbook on the topic, Make It FOD Free: The Ultimate FOD Prevention Program Manual.,[5] the basic elements of a comprehensive campaign include:

  • FOD-themed posters, signs and large banners and other visual aids displayed in critical work areas and places where employees are likely to gather;
  • Jackets, caps, coffee mugs, water bottles and other usable items with [FOD] logos affixed, which can be given away as “prizes” for good FOD-prevention performance;
  • FOD Walks, in which personnel walk down a flightline shoulder-to-shoulder, working together to pick up FOD.
  • “FOD Awareness Week”, a week-long schedule of events – such as training sessions and FOD control equipment displays – targeted to get the workforce involved and increase their knowledge of the FOD Program.[5]

The United States Air Force, for instance, is always looking for creative ways to encourage FOD awareness. The 407th Air Expeditionary Group at Ali Air Base in Iraq brings the fun of treasure hunting into its FOD Walks, by hiding a prized “Golden Bolt” somewhere along the flightline.[20] The Aircraft Maintenance Group at Tinker Air Force Base posts signs that say “get your five today” or “what were your five”, to encourage personnel to pick up at least five pieces of FOD every day.[21]


Training is a tremendous awareness tool that is not always given the priority and forethought it deserves. It is an opportunity to highlight areas needing improvement, reinforce some of the rules that are not always being adhered to, introduce new initiatives, and applaud accomplishments. For instance, elements of new employee training should include:

  • The definition of FOD. Don’t assume everyone knows what Foreign Object Damage is. Show photos of FOD and pass around samples of debris found at your facility.
  • Identify the FOD SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and provide a copy of the FOD procedure to each new employee.
  • Emphasize the importance of “Clean-As-You-Go” and define the rules that apply to daily work routines.
  • Review tool and hardware rules, to include tool crib issued items.
  • Review the Missing Item Report, when to use it and how to submit it.
  • Identify FOD control areas. Show examples of typical FOD charts/metrics.
  • If a borescope is available at your site, discuss who may use it, and general safety rules.
  • Also identify other specialized tools used to locate or remove foreign objects.
  • Explain the role of the FOD department and how to contact a representative if needed. Put out the Welcome Mat.[5]

Formal certification in Foreign Object Elimination (FOE) – Elements of Basic Awareness is now available from The National Center for Aerospace & Transportation Technologies, NCATT ( (formerly called National Center for Aircraft Technician Training), which is funded by the National Science Foundation. Certification covers knowledge of the following areas:

  • Basic Terms & definitions
  • Housekeeping
  • Tool Accountability
  • Hardware Accountability
  • Lost Items
  • Physical Entry & Personnel Control
  • Reporting & Investigating
  • Material Handling
  • Parts Protections
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Wildlife / Environment
  • FOD Effects.[22]

Technologies capable of detecting FOD

There is some debate regarding FOD detection systems as the costs can be high and the domain of responsibility is not clear. However, one airport claims that their FOD detection system may have paid for itself in a single incident where personnel were alerted to a steel cable on the runway, before a single aircraft was put at risk.[23] The FAA has investigated FOD detection technologies, and has set standards for the following categories[24]:

  • Radar
example: QinetiQ and Trex Aviation Systems
QinetiQ installations combine radar with cameras mounted on pylons alongside runways. Trex use mobile radars mounted on vehicles, which are driven on the runways, taxiways, aprons and parking ramps. Due to its mobility, the Trex system is the only FOD detection system reviewed by the FAA that covers 100% of the airports operating surface.
  • Electro-Optical [visible band imagery (standard CCTV) and low light cameras]
  • Hybrid:
Xsight Systems Xsight's Surface Detection Units are mounted on the runway edge lights and combine a millimeter-wave radar sensor and an optic sensor with NIR illumination.
  • RFID on metal
[2] Radio frequency identification (RFID) is used to track objects such as tools to prevent items from being left in airplanes, nuclear reactors, and other critical areas.

Technologies, information and training materials helpful in preventing FOD

  • FOD Prevention Program Manuals
examples: Make It FOD Free
  • Magnetic Bars
examples: F.O.D. Control , Monroe , and Thompson
  • Promotional and Awareness Materials
examples: NAFPI , Posters/Decals/Mugs/etc.
  • Tool and Parts Control/Retrieval
Tool Detection Systems -- examples: Aeroprobe , AIT, IDZ Technologies
Parts Control -- example: Parts Organizers
  • Tow-behind Sweepers


  • Training Materials
FOD 101 Basic Training PowerPoint
FOE certification
  • Vacuum Truck Sweepers
examples: Elgin , Tymco , and Tennant
  • Walk-behind Sweepers
examples: Billy Goat , F.O.D. Control , and Tennant

Studies on FOD

There have only been two detailed studies of the economic cost of FOD for civil airline operations. The first was by Brad Bachtel of Boeing, who published a value of $4 billion USD per year.[25] This top-down value was for several years the standard industry figure for the cost of FOD. The second work (2007) was by Iain McCreary from the consultancy Insight SRI Ltd. This more detailed report offered a first-cut of the cost of FOD, based on a bottom-up analysis of airline maintenance log records. Here, data was broken into Per Flight Direct Costs and Per Flight Indirect Costs for the top 300 global airports, with detailed footnotes on the supporting data.[26] The Insight SRI research was a standard reference for 2007-2009 as it was the only source presenting costs and thus was quoted by regulators, airports, and technology providers alike.[27]

However, while that 2007 Insight SRI paper remains the best free public source of data, the new analysis (2010) from Insight SRI offers new numbers. The author of the new report (not free) says "Readers are cautioned not to rely on or in the future refer to numbers from the 2007-08 Insight SRI paper‘The Economic Cost of FOD to Airlines’. This earlier effort was ‘The’ first document detailing the direct and indirect cost of FOD that was based on airline maintenance data (the entire document was a single page of data, followed by 8 pages of footnotes)."

Per Flight Direct Costs of $26[26] are calculated by considering engine maintenance spending, tire replacements, and aircraft body damage.

Per Flight Indirect Costs include a total of 31 individual categories:

  1. Airport efficiency losses
  2. Carbon / Environmental issues
  3. Change of aircraft
  4. Close airport
  5. Close runway
  6. Corporate manslaughter/criminal liability
  7. Cost of corrective action
  8. Cost of hiring and training replacement
  9. Cost of rental or lease of replacement equipment
  10. Cost of restoration of order
  11. Cost of the investigation
  12. Delay for planes in air
  13. Delays at gate
  14. Fines and citations
  15. Fuel efficiency losses
  16. Hotels
  17. In-air go-around
  18. Increased insurance premiums
  19. Increased operating costs on remaining equipment
  20. Insurance deductibles
  21. Legal fees resulting
  22. Liability claims in excess of insurance
  23. Loss of aircraft
  24. Loss of business and damage to reputation
  25. Loss of productivity of injured personnel
  26. Loss of spares or specialized equipment
  27. Lost time and overtime
  28. Missed connections
  29. Morale
  30. Reaction by crews leading to disruption of schedule
  31. Replacement flights on other carriers
  32. Scheduled maintenance
  33. Unscheduled maintenance

The study concludes that when these indirect costs are added, then the cost of FOD increases by a multiple of up to 10x.[28]

Eurocontrol and the FAA are both studying FOD. Eurocontrol released a preliminary assessment of FOD Detection technologies in 2006, while the FAA is conducting trials of the four leading systems from Qinetiq (PVD Providence T F Green Airport), Stratech (ORD Chicago O'Hare Airport), Xsight Systems (BOS Boston Logan Airport), and Trex Aviation Systems (ORD Chicago O'Hare Airport) during 2007 and 2008. Results of this study should be published in 2009.[dated info]


  1. ^ According to the National Aerospace Standard 412, maintained by the National Association of FOD Prevention, Inc.
  2. ^ a b NAFPI website
  3. ^ "Runway Safety - FOD, Birds, and the Case for Automated Scanning". Insight SRI Ltd. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  4. ^ "The Economic Cost of FOD to Airlines". Insight SRI Ltd. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  5. ^ a b c d Make It FOD Free website
  6. ^ AF Flight 4590 website
  7. ^ "BAA Global FOD Conference". BAA London Heathrow Airport. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  8. ^ Technology articles about FOD
  9. ^ FAA Advisory Circular
  10. ^ "Unpaved Strip Kit". The (unofficial) 737 Technical Site. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  11. ^ "A Brief Description of the 737 Family of Airplanes". 2005-10. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  12. ^ "Airbus MoU with IAI to explore eco-efficient ‘engines-off’ taxiing". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  13. ^ List of ejections from aircraft in 1981. Retrieved: 30 August 2008.
  14. ^ Page with link to WMV clip of destruction of TA-4J BuNo. 156896. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
  15. ^ AAIB Official Report of the investigation into the crash of HS.125-600B registration G-BCUX retrieved 2010-05-19.
  16. ^ Aviation Safety Network XV256 accident page retrieved 2008-01-23.
  17. ^ "RAAF Exchange Pilot Valour Cited in RAF Accident Report", "Newsdesk - Military", Australian Aviation magazine No. 16, September 1982, p45. Aerospace Publications Pty. Ltd., Manly NSW
  18. ^ [ "Airside Applications for Artificial Turf"]. Federal Aviation Administration. 2006. 
  19. ^ The F.O.D. Control Corporation website
  20. ^
  21. ^ Tinker.AF.MIL website
  22. ^ website
  23. ^ "YVR Airport". TV Interview. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  24. ^ "FAA Advisory Circular". Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  25. ^ "Foreign Object Debris and Damage Prevention". Boeing Aero Magazine. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  26. ^ a b "The Economic Cost of FOD to Airlines". Insight SRI Ltd. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  27. ^ [1]
  28. ^ "The economic cost of FOD to airlines". Insight SRI Ltd.. March 2008. 

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