Easyjet to conduct volcano ash cloud tests

A plume of ash rises from a volcano erupting under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier The Eyjafjallajokull eruption caused the largest closure of European airspace since World War II

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A tonne of volcanic ash has been flown from Iceland to Luton airport in readiness for a "unique experiment" to test an aircraft warning system designed to detect ash clouds.

Ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which caused travel chaos in 2010, will be dispersed into the atmosphere in "controlled conditions".

An Easyjet flight equipped with the system then aims to measure the hazard.

The airspace for the August testing is yet to be confirmed.

The AVOID system

  • The system can be likened to a weather radar for ash and uses infrared technology fitted to the aircraft to supply images to pilots and an airline's operations control centre
  • The images will enable pilots to see an ash cloud, up to 100 km ahead of the aircraft and at altitudes between 5,000ft (1,524m) and 50,000ft (15.2km), allowing them to make adjustments to the plane's flight path to avoid any ash cloud
  • On the ground, information from aircraft with AVOID technology would be used to build an image of the volcanic ash cloud using real-time data, which could benefit passengers by minimising disruption

The Eyjafjallajokull eruption in April 2010 caused the largest closure of European airspace since World War II, with losses estimated at between 1.5bn and 2.5bn euros (£1.3-2.2bn).

The plane will carry the AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector) system, which has been developed by Easyjet, Airbus and scientists from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NIAR).

Technology 'crucial'

Ian Davies, engineering director for Luton-based Easyjet, said: "The threat from Icelandic volcanoes continues so finalising approval of the AVOID technology is as crucial now as ever, to ensure we never again see the scenes of spring 2010 when all flying ceased for several days.

"It means that in the event of another eruption and ash coming down over Europe we'll be able to determine where it is and fly in areas that are absolutely safe."

Ash loaded onto an Easyjet airbus The ash, dried to create the consistency of fine talc and transported in tubs, will be used in the experiment planned for this summer

The AVOID system uses a dual-camera system that "sees" the ash particles in the atmosphere in order to alert pilots to take evasive action. If sucked into the plane's engine they can melt and clog the equipment.

Dr Fred Prata, a senior scientist from NIAR, said: "One aircraft will sprinkle about a tonne of ash into the atmosphere and another will come at it from a distance with our instrument mounted onboard and see the cloud.

"We think if aircraft are equipped with this equipment they'll be able to take action to go around it quite safely."

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