EasyJet's Bid To AVOID Volcanic Ash

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Low-budget British airline EasyJet is betting more than $1 million that infrared technology will help their pilots avoid future volcanic ash clouds and ash-cloud-induced losses for the airline. The Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (AVOID) would detect an ash cloud from about 60 nm away using infrared cameras and infrared radiation sensing equipment. In practice, it would give the crew of a cruising EasyJet Airbus A340 about seven minutes to identify the cloud and properly respond. The technology is being developed in partnership with Airbus and has so far earned an investment of more than $1.2 million from EasyJet. The airline estimates it may have lost more than $75 million in April and May from repeated airspace closures that occurred when volcanic activity in Iceland spread ash clouds over much of Europe. If all goes well, devices could be in place on EasyJet aircraft by year-end. Meanwhile, air authorities have been working on a different approach.

Working with airlines and engine manufacturers, the Civil Aviation Authority has attempted to determine the levels of volcanic ash that pose a threat to aircraft and set standards for flight operations. As a result, airlines are now allowed to fly through areas where the ash levels are below "tolerance levels" set by engine manufacturers. The CAA says it encourages technological developments like that pursued by EasyJet and will do what it can to facilitate the process to put the technology in place. Current estimates suggest the product EasyJet hopes to incorporate would weigh less than one pound and be placed on the vertical tail. The device would use infrared cameras to observe the infrared radiation signatures emitted by volcanic ash clouds and then estimate their density. EasyJet hopes for first flight tests within two months.