New technology that could minimise future disruption to planes from volcanic ash was unveiled today by budget airline easyJet.
The carrier will be the first airline to trial a new “weather radar for ash” system called AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector).
The system 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 62 miles (100 kilometres) ahead of the aircraft and at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000ft.
This will allow pilots to make adjustments to the plane’s flight path to avoid any ash cloud.
Millions of passengers had their travel plans wrecked when airlines had to scrap thousands of flights in recent weeks due to the Icelandic volcanic ash problem.
AVOID had been created by Dr Fred Prata of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU)
The concept is very similar to weather radars which are standard on commercial airliners today.
On the ground, information from aircraft with AVOID technology would 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, which would benefit passengers by minimising disruption.
EasyJet chief executive Andy Harrison said: “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.”
There was criticism from UK airlines of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) over its handling of the ash cloud crisis.
Today, CAA chief executive Andrew Haines said: “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.”
The first test flight is to be carried out by plane-making company Airbus on behalf of easyJet within two months, using an Airbus A340 test aircraft.
Subject to the results of these tests, easyJet intends to trial the technology on its own aircraft with a view to installing it on enough aircraft to minimise future disruption from ash.