Easyjet unveils ash cloud radar

4 Jun 2010 by BusinessTraveller

Budget airline Easyjet has invested £1 million in the development of an airborne ash detector.

Created by atmospheric scientist Fred Prata, the new technology called AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) would mean aircraft could fly round any ash clouds, in the same way that pilots currently change their flight paths to avoid thunder storms.

Described as an ash radar, which would be mounted on a plane’s tail fin, the technology uses infra-red radiation to detect airborne ash particles up to 100km away.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Andy Harrison, Easyjet’s CEO, told our sister publication ABTN: “The volcanic ash caused mass disruption across Europe. The vast bulk of that disruption was because people didn’t know the amount of ash in the airspace. We had to rely on some pretty unreliable models. This device will change that… We believe that the mass disruption we saw will be a thing of the past.”

Easyjet hopes to be trialling the technology on 12 planes within the year, subject to initial tests carried out in the next two months by Airbus, on an A340 test aircraft.

Prata, who has tested AVOID at volcanoes including Etna and Stromboli, said it can tell the difference between ash clouds and water clouds, and can be used day or night.

The device can also measure the mass of ash in a given area, he said, which means aircraft can avoid areas where the ash density is too high.

If the tests are successful, the ash radar could be used on hundreds of planes, which would mean authorities could use real time data to build a map of ash in the atmosphere.

Andrew Haines, CEO of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), praised Easyjet for investing in the technology, saying it was the “most exciting innovation I have seen this far”, but warned it would need to go through rigorous safety tests before it could be introduced widely.

Haines added that it is “essential” for the aviation industry work together to find solutions to potential disruption caused by ash in the future. “I very much hope this is a sign the industry is ready to play its part,” said Haines.

He also defended the CAA’s decision to ground all aircraft in April, saying it was “a set of circumstances we had never experienced before.”

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Report by Sara Turner

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