For Immediate Release
January 1, 2005
Fortunately, it's not often that you come home and find a strange object or substance on your property. It could be in the yard, on the roof, or worse yet, sitting on your favorite chair after it fell through the roof.
People often think such objects or substances came from an airplane. Surprisingly, many of these objects that are thought to have fallen from the sky actually came from the ground (see Myth #5). Others came from our feathered friends (see Myth #3 and Myth #4). Homeowners often think that if something is brown and came from the sky, it came from somebody sitting on a plane (see Myth #1 and Myth #2).
The FAA investigates all such incidents, so if you suspect something came from the sky, please give us a call. You can find your local FAA Flight Standards District Office.
We hope this fact sheet will help you understand the facts of how human waste is handled aboard aircraft, and what some of these events involve.
What is That?!
The FAA's "did it come out of a plane?" phone calls always increase during bird migration season. Brown droplets on houses, cars, pets and sometimes people often leads the public to think planes are dumping human waste.
Myth #1: Aircraft toilets dump overboard when flushed.
Fact: Lavatory waste is contained in a holding tank until the aircraft lands. Manufacturers take great care to ensure this holding tank is secure. The apparatus to access the tank is located on the exterior of the plane, which leads us to…
Myth #2: Pilots can dump the tank while in flight.
Fact: It's physically impossible for a pilot to dump a tank while in flight. That exterior lever means only the ground crew can operate the valve that opens the tank while the plane is on the ground.
Myth #3: Something brown hit me. It smells. I know it's human waste from a plane.
Fact: In the fall of each year, our call volume rises dramatically regarding suspect waste falling from planes. We want to inspect any incident that may involve an item falling from an aircraft, but when we investigate the phone calls regarding the brown droplets, virtually all of them involve bird waste. We've asked the EPA to investigate many of these incidents, and their findings show bird waste as well.
At particular times of the year, migrating birds, particularly geese, fly in large groups overhead, and they can leave brown or green waste.
Myth #4: Something blue hit me. It smells. I KNOW it's human waste from a plane.
Some aircraft lavatory holding tanks have a chemical added to the water to deodorize the waste and break down any solids. This chemical is a dark blue color. If a drain tube has a leak, a bit of blue water may leak out.
Modern commercial aircraft cruise at high altitudes, and the sub-zero temperatures will cause any liquid to freeze immediately, hence the term "Blue Ice." If any of this "Blue Ice" were to fall from an aircraft, it would melt long before it hit the ground, dissipating into miniscule droplets that are nearly invisible.
Bird migration also occurs during a time when fruit trees are ripening. As the fruit goes through a bird's digestive system it loses none of its color, which means if it was blue going in, it will be blue coming out.
Myth #5: A solid chunk of something just fell from the sky and hit my house.
Please call the FAA immediately if you suspect anything fell from an aircraft. You can find your local FAA Flight Standards District Office in the phone directory, or you can search our online directory.
Please do not disturb the item, and take note of any overhead flight activity at the time, including type of plane and distinguishing marks. The plane's registration, or tail number, is printed on the tail of the aircraft, and it serves as the plane's "license plate." If you can record it, that number will be extremely helpful. Please take note of any colors or markings on the aircraft. The exact time of day is also critical.
It's very rare for anything to fall from an aircraft. Sometimes, metal items thought to fall from aircraft actually came from a nearby manufacturer, warehouse or business, or were kicked up by passing traffic. Still, the FAA wishes to investigate any and all suspicious events, so please give us a call.