A Plane Engine and a Plastic Bag: What Would You Do?

In all aviation safety manuals, foreign object debris (FOD) is defined as any object that is in an inappropriate location that could cause damage to other objects or injure employees and passengers. So, what would you do if you were sitting with a great view of the plane engine and see a plastic bag get sucked right in?

A few days ago, a friend showed me a video from a very famous app among celebrities and youths, called TikTok. The video depicted a plastic bag being sucked into an engine, and then proceeded to show a young man’s face looking worried as he sat on the plane, and lastly quickly shot to his seatbelt with him pretending to quickly get out of the seat. All of this was done in a comedic way and meant to provide a bit of laughter to all, but that plastic bag really did shoot right up into that engine..

What would you do if you saw that? What would you do if you saw a plastic bag shoot up into the engine? Now, yes it is just a plastic bag – but all it takes is one plastic bag to damage a jet engine. This leads me to this question: do passengers really know the dangers of FOD? Their perception to FOD is different to aviation professionals, and many will not even know that a plastic bag is an example of foreign object debris.

I then began to research other incidents involving foreign object debris – and one struck out in my mind. This was the incident with Lucky Air and the ‘lucky coins’ back in February 2019, when a 28-year-old man threw coins by the engine for ‘good luck’. In court, the man was ordered to pay a hefty fine, but also argued that the airline should have warned passengers not to throw coins at the plane.

The counter argument was rather stunning and very much pointless in his case. However, the man did have a point. Why don’t airlines warn of foreign object debris to passengers? Why don’t airlines warn of foreign object debris as much as public transport companies do with terror threats? While the risk and likelihood of foreign object damage is low, it is still a risk to the aircraft and the safety of the passengers and crew.

So, what can be done to continue to minimise this risk of foreign object debris causing foreign object damage? In my opinion, safety briefings could include a sentence or two on foreign object debris, so that passengers are aware of it, and may be able to spot the risk if ground crew and flight crew do not. In addition to this, it could also be ensured that there should be a ban of some objects in airports which cannot be recycled and rarely reused, such as plastic bags – as this will not only reduce the risk of foreign object damage, but also be vital for the environment and surroundings.

There are a lot of factors to be taken into account when tackling the issue of foreign object debris and the damage that can be caused, meaning it is vital that a suitable solution can be met.

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I'm an aspiring commercial pilot, with the goal of being able to influence others to join me in the industry. I study Air Transport Management alongside my pilot training.

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