Busy Boston Logan International is battling one of aviation’s most persistent safety problems with an innovative new device. The problem is called FOD – Foreign Object Debris, and it can be deadly. Minute pieces of metal can cut down aircraft tires or be sucked up into low-slung engines.
July 25, 2000, Paris Charles de Gaulle. An Air France Concorde, Flight 4590, roars down the runway on a takeoff run to disaster. A piece of undetected titanium debris shed from a Continental Airlines DC-10 shreds a tire, catapulting rubber into the supersonic jet’s fuel tank. Fire breaks out. The technological wonder that was Concorde slams into a hotel shortly after takeoff, the victim of an unassuming piece of metal 17.1 inches (435 millimeters) long. 100 passengers, nine crew and four on the ground die.
The fact is, FOD damage to aircraft is estimated at billions of dollars per year. The battle is never-ending to find these often-tiny pieces of metal before they wreak havoc.
Traditionally, airports deploy vehicles to roam runways, taxiways and tarmac to ferret out FOD. Then they sweep it up, vacuum it up or pick it up with powerful magnets.
What Boston’s done is add a high-tech detection component to the anti-FOD arsenal. The $1.7-million system scans the entirety of Logan’s busiest strip, Runway 9/27 (runways are arrayed according to compass heading). The idea here, according to the United States Federal Aviation Administration, is that automation can continuously monitor the runway and provide “both audible alerts and precise information about the location of FOD the system detects.”
FAA says the plan in Boston calls for a year-long study to see just how the new automated system stacks up against traditional FOD management practices.
Look for Miami International Airport to install a FOD-detection system on one of its runways in FY2014. FAA says it’s told the airport community that limited, discretionary Airport Improvement Program grant money will be available for operational FOD-detection gear at a trio of large hub airports in the U.S.