How Does an Airport Runway Sweeper Work?

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An airport runway sweeper plays a vital role in the flying process because it helps remove foreign object debris (FOD). There are different types of airport sweepers that use different types of technologies, and it can depend on the needs of the airport in figuring which sweeper is best.

Mechanical sweepers will work by having mechanically moving brushes that help remove debris out of the cracks of a runway, and then direct the debris into a central collection bin. The moving brushes on these sweepers can sweep away larger and heavier materials. There are a few drawbacks since these brushes have a harder time picking up smaller particles and these particles can get stirred up into dust. Brush bristles could break off and the sweepers do need to have brushes replaced periodically. Since this type of sweeper works to brush away debris, it doesn’t work as well when the pavement is wet or it’s raining.

Vacuum sweepers work just like a household vacuum. They will suck up debris in order to remove it. These sweepers will work better for dusty environments and some will have small moving brushes to get into the cracks. They do generate some dust like mechanical sweepers, but it will get sucked back up. These sweepers do require regular maintenance, and sometimes repairs, and can be very heavy. Since they are vacuuming up the debris, they are also not effective on wet surfaces.

Magnetic sweepers work better for areas that have a lot of metal FOD. The sweeper will have an assembly of industrial magnets that are enclosed in a protective metal housing. There are attached hangers and hooks that are installed underneath a motor or another vehicle. As the sweeper goes across the ground surface, the magnets will attract the metal debris from the runways. These sweepers won’t collect anything that isn’t metal and are more prone to damage.

Regenerative air sweepers are similar to vacuum sweepers. They suck in air and debris through a nozzle then recirculate it and blast it back into the pavement. This then pushes debris toward the nozzle to be sucked back up again. They are environmentally friendly but won’t work on uneven surfaces.

A friction mat airport runway sweeper will collect FOD by using a series of brushes that will direct the debris onto a collection mat. These collection mats can be towed behind different types of vehicles, ranging from pickup trucks to golf carts. These sweepers are more effective at removing smaller particles, including dirt and sand. These sweepers do work on wet surfaces and since there is no motor for this mat, they don’t require any maintenance or repairs. Many find that these types of sweepers will clear more efficiently than other options. The mats are portable and, since any vehicle can tow them, they offer a solution for smaller airports and tighter spaces.