It is easy to understand in the abstract what dangers foreign object debris pose to the safety of airports. A forgotten nail could puncture a tire on a luggage cart, a missing hammer could trip up a member of the ground crew. However, the risks go way beyond such minor damage as was in evidence on July 25th, 2000 when Air France Flight 4590 was brought down by a small piece of FOD. All 109 people aboard the plane and 4 people on the ground were killed, and another person on the ground was critically injured.
Air France Flight 4590 was an international flight from Paris, France to New York City that took off at roughly 16:43 CET with 100 passengers and 9 crew members on board. Minutes later, everyone on board was dead due to a deadly chain reaction kicked off by a small strip of metal laying on the runway. The offending piece of metal was only 17.1 inches long, 1.1 to 1.3 inches wide, and 0.055 inches thick. It was a wear strip on the engine cowl of a flight that had taken off just before Flight 4590 which lost the wear-strip during its take off.
When Flight 4590 ran over the strip it punctured one of the tires, sending a piece of the tire into the underside of the aircraft’s wing at an estimated speed of 310mph. This wasn’t enough to puncture the fuel tank in the wing, however, it sent out a pressure shockwave that ruptured one of the tanks allowing fuel to gush out of the wing. This fuel was then ignited either by an electrical arc from the landing gear or through contact with hot parts of the engine. A large fire developed immediately and the flight engineer shut down one of the engines in response to the fire, however, it was too late to abort the takeoff due to there not being enough runway left for the plane to stop safely. Except, with only three of their four engines operating and the landing-gear not folding up due to the damage and thus creating drag, the plane also did not have enough power to gain the altitude and speed needed to come around and land back at the airport, or divert to another airport. At this point the fire was so serious the port wing began to disintegrate as it was melted by the high temperatures, resulting in uneven thrust from each side of the plane. Almost immediately after this the aircraft stalled and crashed into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel, killing all 109 people on board and 4 employees of the hotel.
This entire chain of events was kicked off by a small piece of foreign object debris that resulted from poor maintenance of an earlier flight. This poor maintenance allowed the deadly piece of debris to fall off of the plane and crash Flight 4590 when it took off immediately after. Preventing future incidents like this starts with proper maintenance to prevent the debris from occurring in the first place. But to account for the debris that will still happen, even with the best maintenance, using a magnetic sweeper like those offered by AZ Industries plays a crucial role in preventing life-threatening incidents like what occurred with Flight 4590. 113 lives were lost that didn’t have to be, all because foreign object debris was not properly dealt with.