easyJet unveils ash cloud radar

Budget airline easyJet is planning to test a groundbreaking infrared system which would let passenger planes fly around volcanic ash clouds.

The new technology called Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector, or AVOID, was set to be tested by easyJet in the next couple of months. If the trials go well, easyJet said it would be rolled out on enough aircraft to minimise future disruption if ash clouds resumed.

The infrared technology, created by Dr Fred Prata of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, would be placed onto aircraft to supply real-time images to the pilots and the airline’s flight control centre. The images would enable pilots to see an ash cloud up to 100km ahead of the aircraft at altitudes between 5000 and 50,000 feet, allowing pilots to make adjustments to the plane’s flight path to avoid it.

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.”

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority welcomed the development and said it would do all it could to further facilitate methods for avoiding flight disruption due to ash clouds.

“It is essential that the aviation community works together to develop solutions to minimise disruption, should ash return,” said CAA chief executive Andrew Haines.

The first test flight will be carried out by Airbus using an Airbus 340 test aircraft on behalf of easyJet within two months.

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