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.

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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