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easyJet update on volcanic ash AVOID system

easyJet has announced its progress with the AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) system and has called upon the aviation industry to work together to avoid further disruption in European airspace from future volcanic activity.

Ian Davies, head of engineering, easyJet, commented, “Last winter we were told that the heavy snowfall was a once in a lifetime event and then it happened again ten months later. We can’t predict exactly when another volcano will erupt and send an ash cloud into European airspace, but we can say with certainty that it will happen at some stage.

“Our industry is better prepared today that it was last year but we need to go further. easyJet is playing its part by working closely with Dr Fred Prata and his team to progress the development of the AVOID technology, and we call for more support from the rest of the industry for this and other new solutions to deal with the volcanic threat.”

Since last year, easyJet investment has supported development of AVOID technology and a prototype has been developed which is now ready to test in volcanic ash. A certification application is now being prepared for submission to EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) as is a request to the European Commission for further funding.

The AVOID system is effectively a weather radar for ash. Created by Dr Fred Prata of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), the system comprises infrared technology (developed by the US military) fitted to aircraft to supply images to pilots and an airline’s flight control centre. The images will enable pilots to see an ash cloud up to 100 km ahead of the aircraft and at altitudes between 5,000 ft and 50,000 ft, thus allowing them to make adjustments to the aeroplane’s flight path to avoid any ash cloud. 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.

The next phase of the project is to further validate the equipment by flying close to volcanic ash. Dr Prata and his team are monitoring volcanic activity in the Far East and Alaska. The testing is expected to take place over the coming months.

At the end of this process the AVOID system will be ready to go into mass production. easyJet believes that if 100 aircraft (20 of which would be easyJet’s) across Europe were to be fitted with AVOID equipment, this would provide comprehensive coverage of the continent enabling airlines to supply monitoring information to the authorities to support the new processes and procedures that were introduced after the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. This vital information would enable all airlines to continue to fly safely in line with the CAA guidance of safe flying zones.

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