Easyjet Ash Detection System Flight Trials

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Low-cost airline Easyjet is set to flight-trial advanced ash detection technology.

Last year, it unveiled its Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (AVOID) system.

Now, it’s getting ready to put it through its paces, after the latest Icelandic volcanic eruption which occurred on 21 May 2011.

Easyjet’s AVOID system trials will potentially involve a flight through the current ash cloud generated by the new eruption. This eruption originated from Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano and, while its impact on airspace hasn’t been as savage as expected, the high-level concentration of ash that’s been moving southwards has still been responsible for hundreds of flight cancellations.
AVOID Ash Detection System

The AVOID ash detection system takes the form of a structure intended to be fixed to the outside of an aircraft. The structure features an array of tubes incorporating infrared imaging technology capable of, firstly, identifying ash within a 100 mile range and, then, transmitting the results they collect both into the cockpit and to controllers at ground level.

Equipped with this information, these controllers can piece together a comprehensive 3-D representation of ash levels present in the atmosphere.

According to a representative of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), which developed AVOID, it’s based, in part, on a system that’s already in use. “This uses technology that has been employed in satellites for 25 years, but whereas they look straight down, this works horizontally which makes it more effective”, Senior Scientist Fred Prata explained to CNN, adding: “at cruise altitude, there is really no limit to how far ahead you can detect ash.”

The AVOID system is “…an approach we are encouraging”, CAA representative, Richard Taylor, added. “We have said all along the airlines have to come up with a solution, in collaboration with aircraft manufacturers.”
Easyjet AVOID Flight Trials

Beyond the upcoming Easyjet AVOID flight trials, the ultimate aim is to put AVOID into full-scale commercial production and, to this end, Easyjet has pledged to make the system available to other carriers.

In related news, on 25 May, Irish low-cost airline Ryanair challenged the concerns expressed over the 2011 Icelandic ash cloud.

Describing how it had carried out a flight over Scotland - a part of the UK especially affected by the recent cancellations - it reported that “no visible volcanic ash cloud or evidence of ash on the airframe, wings or engines” had been recorded.

This flight was reportedly carried out at 41,000 feet but, according to the CAA, it didn’t go into what’s been dubbed the ‘red zone’, where the majority of ash has been concentrating.