It’s called “foreign object debris,” or FOD, and it’s a big deal at airports. Small, seemingly insignificant items like pebbles, bottle caps or bolts can create serious problems if they come into the contact with an airplane or, worse, get sucked into a turbine engine.
While all airports are required to have plans to keep runways safe from FOD, Sacramento International Airport (SMF) has a program that goes above and beyond – so much so that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asked the airport to submit an feature article for the FAA Western Region’s quarterly newsletter. The FAA’s Certification Inspector holds SMF’s three-year-old program as an industry best practice.
The Airport already has thrice-daily manual and visual FOD inspections of the operating area, which includes everything within the perimeter of the property including taxiways and runways.
What makes the airport’s FOD program special is that it brings airlines and airport tenants together in a collaborative workgroup. The sponsor airline takes the lead in collaborating with airport tenants and leads quarterly meetings, oversees monthly quality assurance updates, and conducts random inspections of areas around aircraft gates, aprons, and movement and non-movement areas.
Any problem areas are photographed and discussed at meetings. An inventory of all FOD is collectively weighed, and readily-identifiable items are traced back to their owners, who get reminders about the safety implications of FOD.
Another component of the program is a quarterly event where volunteers walk every inch of a runway looking for debris. The person who picks up the most FOD receives a prize. It used to be staffed solely by airport employees. But with the new program, airline managers, Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting battalion chiefs, custodians, and concourse concessionaires now walk side-by-side with airport operations staff.
“Under this approach, the airport maintains the required regulatory oversight while still allowing our airlines the creative freedom to communicate our FOD message,” said airside operations manager Joe Conklin. “Our revamped program has resulted in the renewed interest in accountability and continued safety oversight. The synergy that exists between airline and airport partners has been the key to make our new FOD program a success.”