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Runway cleanup at SFO scheduled for today

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Wind-blown garbage, tools left over from airplane mechanics or wires falling off trucks zipping back and forth on the runway can spell serious trouble for an airplane engine, airport officials say.

Debris-related accidents have not occurred at SFO, but they’ve been known to happen at other airports. Investigators concluded, for example, that a metal piece of debris on the runway at Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris was one of the primary reasons for the deadly 2000 crash of an Air France flight heading to New York.

To avoid such catastrophes, representatives from almost all departments at San Francisco International Airport, and at least half a dozen airlines, will take to the runways today to clear debris.

The group will spend hours clearing two of the airport’s four runways of everything that "isn’t tied down," spokesman Mike McCarron said.

FOD, or foreign object debris, can be hail or snow, but at SFO, it’s typically paper, plastic and cardboard, with the occasional set of wire cables falling off trucks on the runway, McCarron said.

Some 50 to 60 flights scheduled this morning, an off-peak time chosen to minimize impacts on travelers, will be diverted to the other two runways. No delays are expected.

The airports are ultimately responsible for all runway cleanups, but airlines are also expected to pitch in and clear out their own areas.

United Airlines spokesman Brandon Borrman said that runway personnel are trained to keep an eye out for all forms of debris. Maintenance teams also have toolbox inventory procedures to ensure all tools have been removed and stored before flights.

"A lot of it is situational awareness," Borrman said.

The Federal Aviation Administration makes annual checks of air carrier airports such as SFO, spokesman Ian Gregor said. Such airports are required to inspect runways, taxiways and ramps daily, and submit findings to the FAA.

Airports are also responsible for filling cracks in the pavement, clearing gravel and scrubbing rubber tire deposits off these areas.

Failure to maintain a proper runway area results in a request from the FAA to do the needed work by a deadline, Gregor said.

In very rare cases, it can result in a fine or an order to cease operations.

The sixth-annual cleanup will not cost the airport or airlines any extra money, as all employers gave employees time to participate in the event.

A crew of roughly a dozen workers regularly removes debris, but the showing is designed to highlight the importance of constant vigilance on the runways for all airport employees, McCarron said.

tramroop@examiner.com