Easyjet starts volcanic ash tests to avoid future travel chaos

EasyjetEasyjet has flown a tonne of volcanic ash from Reykjavik to the UK to be used in tests designed to avoid a repeat of travel chaos caused by the notorious Icelandic volcano eruption in 2010.

The Eyjafjallajokull eruption, and the ash cloud it spewed out above Iceland and beyond, left flights grounded worldwide. Travellers were left stranded or faced gruelling overland journeys to get home in April 2010. Losses to air carriers caused by the eruption were estimated at up to £2bn when airspace across Europe was closed as clouds of ash made it too dangerous for planes to fly.
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It is hoped the new technology, known as AVOID, could help to steer clear of similar scenes in the future. EasyJet is now working with its partners, Airbus and Nicarnica, on the final stages of testing the technology, which it says can be likened to "a weather radar for ash."

The budget carrier said the tests will involve two Airbus planes. One will carry the imported volcanic ash and will be capable of dispersing it in the atmosphere to create an artificial ash cloud. The second will be fitted with the AVOID technology to detect and avoid ash at over 30,000ft. It will take place when two satellites (Seviri and Calypso) are aligned so that images of the ash cloud can be taken from space to help judge just how accurate the technology is.

Dr Fred Prata, the inventor of the AVOID technology, has been working on the system for the past two decades. He said: "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."

The AVOID system uses infrared technology, developed by the US military, fitted to aircraft to provide images that would allow pilots to see an ash cloud up to 100km in the distance and at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000ft. As such, they would be able to adjust the flight path to safely avoid any ash cloud.

Ian Davies, easyJet's engineering director, said: "The threat from Icelandic volcanoes continues and so finalising 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.

"Transporting a tonne of volcanic ash from Iceland is an important step in the final journey of testing the technology and moving towards commercial certification."

The tests are planned to take place in August, but a spokesperson for easyJet said that the location where the test will be carried out has not yet been confirmed.

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Easyjet starts volcanic ash tests to avoid future travel chaos

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.

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