U.K.-based low cost carrier EasyJet, with Airbus and Norwegian research company Nicarnica Aviation, is ready to perform flight tests for an airborne volcanic ash detection system called Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (AVOID).
Last week, the airline transported a ton of volcanic ash collected in Iceland to a testing center in Toulouse, France. The ash has been dried to the consistency of talcum powder, to be used in a flight trial scheduled for August.
The flight trial will feature two Airbus aircraft, one of which will disperse the ash into the atmosphere, creating an artificial ash cloud for the second aircraft fitted with the AVOID technology to test the system's ability to detect and avoid volcanic ash at over 30,000 feet.
"The threat from Icelandic volcanoes continues, and so finalizing the approval of the AVOID technology is as crucial now as ever to ensure we never again see the scenes of spring 2010 when all flying ceased for several days," said Ian Davies, engineering director at EasyJet.
Created by Dr. Fred Prata, chief technology officer at Nicarnica Aviation, EasyJet likens the AVOID system to "a weather radar for ash."
AVOID features infrared technology within a wingtip pod that sends images to pilots and crew to aid them in changing their flight path to avoid ash clouds. The system can reportedly detect ash clouds up to 62 miles ahead of an aircraft.
"This is the perfect science experiment. We will know exactly how much ash we have placed in the atmosphere, and also its concentration and composition. AVOID will then measure it and demonstrate the technology," said Prata.
Airbus is hoping the the AVOID system will contribute towards three dimensional mapping tools that will allow airlines to operate safely in airspace that features the threat of ash clouds, according to a senior flight test engineer for the company.