If a butterfly flaps its wings, does it create a hurricane on the other side of the planet? Such a small action can have unforeseeable and large impacts on the environment. This is known as the butterfly effect in chaos theory. The scenario brings up philosophical questions about the nature of actions and consequence, free will and determinism. With that said, the butterfly effect itself is outlandish and mostly hinges on speculation.

The same principle holds true for small objects entering aircraft engines, only it’s much more tangible in its implications. A tiny piece of debris causes massive and costly damage to the plane’s engine. Foreign object damage/debris (FOD) is a real challenge that airline companies and military bases struggle with every day.

How FOD Is Dangerous

Engine turbines generate enough suction to pick up debris on the runway. The vortex created by the airflow points at the ground and acts as a powerful vacuum cleaner. Many thought the air vortex was the primary source of FOD. Many speculated that engine turbines couldn’t handle any particle the size of a grain of sand and the best way to prevent this was to angle the turbines into the wind. Studies conducted in the 1950s show that most debris comes from the gaps in the concrete.

These foreign objects are dangerous to those outside of the airplane as well as inside. Particles that entire the turbine accelerate to dangerous velocities behind it and objects that are large or dense enough will damage the turbines themselves and potentially break them.

FOD can happen on the ground or in the air. A famous event made the news in 2009 when Captain Sullivan showed his incredible skill by piloting a damaged plane in the Hudson River. The turbine stopped functioning due to a bird that flew too close and got sucked in.

Repairing FOD Is Costly

Damaged engines aren’t cheap. They can run upward of $1 million per repair. That’s easily 20 percent of the engine’s initial value every time FOD occurs. Tires are also a regular victim to FOD. Flat tires cost nearly $7,000 and need to are replaced about twice per day. Using magnetic sweepers to clean air strips reduces the number of tires used to two or three per week.

Eliminating Runway Debris

Highly Vulnerable Jet Engines

Aircraft and component manufacturers must be careful with their products and packaging methods. Bubble wrap protects every component, but the material used to hold the bubble wrap in place varies. These materials include rubber bands, twist ties, and string. These simple materials can break up and get lost onto the runway. Component packagers should, instead, use tape to secure bubble wraps. Workers should be mindful of debris from construction sites. Use plastic mesh in construction areas to reduce random FOD.

Regardless of packaging materials and other factors, the airstrip workers should regularly clean the runways with magnetic sweepers. Aerosweep provides cleaning equipment to airline companies and military bases worldwide. Buy your airstrips the highest quality magnetic runway sweepers to protect your investments and passengers.