Thursday, 8 December 2011

easyJet to trial specialist volcanic ash detector

A Norwegian inventor is in the final stages of developing a specialist detector which will give accurate readings of the level of volcanic ash in the atmosphere. Dr Fred Prata has created the Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector (or Avoid) in the hope that it will detect dangerous ash if it is in the atmosphere or if a volcanic eruption has occured. It will then test that it is either unsafe to fly or fine to operate and not cause huge disruption to passengers and the aviation industry.

Avoid has been created after easyJet contacted the Norwegian Institute for Air Research who pleaded for a rational approach to dealing with ash clouds.The tubular devices will be attached to the wings of aircraft and operate through infrared radiation to find where an ash cloud is, giving the pilot time to fly around it. It will also use satellite data and atmospheric modelling to create a comprehensive picture of where ashclouds are and in which direction they will move.

Explaining the device, Dr Fred Prata said: "It has two fast-sampling thermal infrared cameras which make images of anything that's in front of the aircraft. The two cameras have been tuned to see the signature of silicates, which are the components that make up volcanic ash. They're able to see silicates up to 100km – maybe more – away if you're flying at 33,000ft, and that information can be relayed straight back to the pilot in the cockpit and he's able to see volcanic ash in the atmosphere ahead of the aircraft and manoeuvre around it."

Avoid has so far been used for around 30 hours of testing around Mt Etna but not yet attached to a passenger jet and this is likely to be the true test of the device. If this can be done and approval granted by the European Aviation Safety Agency, easyJet will start using the technology from summer 2012.

It is hoped that the technolgy will allow the industry to deal better with the an eruption should Katla eventually erupt.