Automated FOD Detection System Evaluation

The presence of foreign objects in the airport environment presents a major hazard to aircraft safety. Foreign object debris (FOD) is any substance, debris, or article alien to the vehicle or system would potentially cause damage. The presence of FOD can be the result of the loss of parts from aircraft, pavement cracking, wildlife, ice and salt accumulation, and construction debris. Identification of FOD at airports requires regular observation of airport surfaces by airport personnel, or by chance recognition by aircraft pilots operating on airport pavement. Removal of such FOD is only triggered by those actual observations.

 In 2005, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in cooperation with the University of Illinois, conducted a preliminary short term evaluation of an automated FOD detection system at the JFK International Airport. Through the use of millimeter wave radar, this system demonstrated that it was capable of detecting objects as small as a two-inch long bolt on the pavement surface. As a result, it was determined that this type of system could easily provide airport personnel with immediate FOD alerts, and even provide specific information on where the object is located. The conclusions from the preliminary research effort recognized successful detection of FOD under many operational and environmental conditions, but also identified a need for the FAA to conduct further evaluation of FOD detection systems at airports on a longer term basis, under varying seasonal conditions.

The FAA evaluated four types of automated FOD detection systems at four large US airports, including the Theodore Francis Green State Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, Boston Logan International Airport, Chicago O’Hare, and Chicago’s Midway Airport. The four different FOD detection systems were installed and evaluated at one of these airports. Key operational characteristics of each FOD detection system were evaluated, documented, summarized, and then published as FAA Final Reports, which are available, as they are published, on this web site under Downloads-Safety. Specific issues that were looked at include the system’s ability to located FOD items, accuracy, speed, and capability to trigger alerts to airport personnel.

In addition to the evaluation of the four FOD detection system, the FAA also completed two new FAA Advisory Circulars which focus on FOD detection technologies and FOD management programs. These documents are available at the following web sites:


AC 150/5210-24, Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Management, 




AC 150/5220-24, Foreign Object Debris Detection Equipment