Even the smallest debris on a runway can cause major problems. Common items that are found on runways include sticks, pieces of wire, rocks, bolts, nuts, and garbage that can blow over from trash bins. Other items include wheel covers from small planes, pieces of pavement, and gas caps. Airports need to follow comprehensive procedures on how to clear runway debris, in order to protect the safety of everyone aboard the aircraft. Removing runway debris is not only important for human safety, but it will also prevent any damage to the aircraft, which can be costly.
Education on Runway Debris: Staff members at airports are educated about the presence of runway debris and FOD (foreign object debris). Even when new employees come on board, one of the first things they learn about is FOD removal. While the runways may look smooth from a distance, many are cut with tiny groves in order to help prevent water from accumulating on a runway that could cause a plane to hydroplane. Unfortunately, this means that tiny rocks and other debris can get into those grooves and need to be removed. Removing runway debris can be required by law. The Federal Aviation Administration has a list of guidelines for maintaining runways and other paved areas at the airports.
Technology to Detect Debris: In the past, the aviation industry has relied on airplane crews to report debris and any workers that are combing the runway to spot items that don’t belong there. Now there are high tech camera systems that can be set up on runways. Other airports are testing various technologies to see how they work, in order to better detect any debris. One of the technologies that is tested is a millimeter wave radar technology that is mounted to a tower. The technology is able to rule out the aircraft and know that the airplanes are not debris as the surface is scanned. Experts hope that with better capabilities to detect debris that it can be possible to create a database that tracks debris that has been found on other runways.
Removing the Debris: There are different ways that airports can remove FOD. One of the easiest ways to do this is by using sweepers. There are different kinds of sweepers. Some use magnets to pick up metal objects, while some use vacuum technology to pick up even the smallest of particles. There are also sweeper mats that can be utilized by being towed behind a vehicle. These mats can be used in all different types of weather and don’t require any maintenance, unlike some sweepers that rely on motors to run. Regardless of the type of technology that airports use, having a way to quickly and efficiently remove debris is necessary.