Stones on the road might be a common annoyance to drivers if they flick up and chip a windscreen but in aviation what is known as Foreign Object Debris can pose a major threat to air safety – sometimes with devastating consequences.
Any object or debris that ends up where it is not supposed to be such as on taxiways and runways can pose a threat to safety, causing severe damage to aircraft, injuring personnel or creating other hazards that some estimates have suggested can cost the civilian aviation industry more than £11 billion a year in damaged equipment, flight delays and other financial costs.
It is small wonder, then, that the Airfield Support Mechanical Transport (ASMT) section at RAF Brize Norton, which keeps the base free from Foreign Object Debris (or FOD), takes stray items like mud, stones any other substances, extremely seriously.
The team works day and night to sweep the taxiways and runways of the base with specialist machinery in one of the many roles that are vital to the operations at RAF Brize Norton.
A stray stone or other debris might not seem significant to those outside of aviation but mud, stones, tools, parts, loose hardware and other objects have been known to pose a major hazard to aircraft such as the devastating crash of Air France Flight 4590 in July 2000.
In that horrific incident, Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde ran over debris on the runway during take-off, resulting in a blown tyre and a ruptured fuel tank, causing the aircraft to crash into a nearby hotel.
SAC Kieran Lear, of the ASMT at RAF Brize Norton, demonstrates the meticulous routine carried out by the team to ensure the highest standards of safety are maintained at the base and keep the taxiways and runways free of FOD.
Forces Radio BFBS presenter Alex Gill joined the team to find out how important the role is to the operations at the base.
The airfield at RAF Brize Norton is home to not only many transport aircraft coming and going every day but also other units with thousands of people working on the site daily.
SAC Lear and the team are equipped with several AS990s – specialist machinery designed to sweep for FOD.
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These versatile vehicles have huge suction apparatus for collecting all kinds of mud and dirt that could damage an aircraft. For the larger metallic items, a powerful magnet is fitted to the front of the AS990s.
Derek Weir, a civilian contractor for ASMT, pointed out how vital the operation is to keep runways clear of debris. He said:
"You've just got to look at the Air France incident with Concorde. If we weren't out every day sweeping the runway the same thing could happen anywhere."
Thanks to the ASMT, the team can report they have not known any significant FOD incidents at RAF Brize Norton with mud and stones the usual debris that is emptied out of their vehicles after their regular routine duties.
You can tune into Forces Radio BFBS at RAF Brize Norton on 106.1FM and on DAB Digital Radio in Oxfordshire.