Technology to help aircraft detect volcanic ash is to go into commercial production, with British carrier easyJet planning to be the first airline to use it.
Effectively a weather radar for ash, the AVOID system has been supported by easyJet and should reduce the chances of a repeat of the Icelandic volcanic ash-cloud crisis of spring 2010.
The crisis came following the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull and led to days of no flights into and out of the UK in April and May 2010, with the whole of Europe affected.
Created by Dr Fred Prata of Nicarnica Aviation, the system utilises infra-red technology fitted to aircraft to supply images to pilots and an airline's operations control centre.
Mt Ruapehu eruptions have caused widespread flight disruptions. Photo / NZ Herald
The images will enable pilots to see an ash cloud up to 96.54 kilometres ahead of the aircraft and at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000ft, thus allowing them to make small adjustments to the plane's flight path to avoid any ash cloud.
The concept is very similar to weather radars which are standard on commercial airliners today.
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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 could open up large areas of airspace that would otherwise be closed during a volcanic eruption, which would benefit passengers by minimising disruption.
The technology was tested by European planemaker Airbus last November through a unique experiment which involved the creation of an artificial ash cloud.
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EasyJet's engineering director Ian Davies said the AVOID production deal, between Nicarnia and avionics supplier Elbit Systems, was "a tangible and significant step forward in bringing this technology from conception into reality".
He went on: "EasyJet has supported the development of this innovative technology since the 2010 volcanic eruption which brought aviation to a halt in Europe. We look forward to being the first airline to fit this technology on our aircraft."