Easyjet to trial volcanic ash detector

4 Jun 2010

The budget airline Easyjet is to trial a volcanic ash detector in the coming months that aims to cut down on the future grounding of flights due to the presence of volcanic ash.

European airspace was shut down for six days during April as fears over the damage that could be caused to airplane engines from the volcanic ash emitted by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland grounded flights.  

Easyjet’s Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (AVOID) was designed by Norway’s Institute for Air Research and is essentially a weather radar for volcanic ash.

It involves placing infrared technology onto an aircraft to supply images to both the pilots and an airline’s flight-control centre.

These images will enable pilots to see an ash cloud up to 100km ahead of the aircraft and at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000ft, Easyjet said. The idea is that pilots can then make adjustments to the plane’s flight path to avoid any ash cloud.

According to Easyjet, the concept is similar to weather radars, which are standard on commercial airliners today.

On the ground meanwhile, information from aircraft with AVOID technology could be used to build an accurate image of the volcanic ash cloud using real-time data. This would open up large areas of airspace that would otherwise be closed during a volcanic eruption, Easyjet suggested.

The first test flight with the AVOID technology is to be carried out by Airbus on behalf of Easyjet within two months, using an Airbus 340 test aircraft.

Subject to the results of these tests, Easyjet said it intends to trial the technology on its own aircraft with a view to installing it on enough aircraft to minimise future disruption from ash.

Silver bullet for ash disruption

“This pioneering technology is the silver bullet that will make large-scale ash disruption history. The ash detector will enable our aircraft to see and avoid the ash cloud, just like airborne weather radars and weather maps make thunderstorms visible” said Easyjet’s outgoing CEO Andy Harrison.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) welcomed Easyjet’s contribution to the volcanic ash issue. “It is essential that the aviation community works together to develop solutions to minimise disruption, should ash return. The CAA welcomes the fact that airlines are considering innovations such as this and we will do all we can to facilitate them,” said CAA chief executive Andrew Haines.

Article courtesy of Businessandleadership.com