Easyjet experiments with volcanic cloud

Easyjet, a UK-based low-cost air carrier, is to carry out tests relating to the operation of aircraft near volcanic ash clouds, using a tonne of ash collected in Iceland.

The planned experiment is part of the company’s effort to better understand the true dangers of ash clouds to aviation and to investigate methods of avoidance. The project has been deemed necessary due to the lengthy grounding of aircraft across large areas of Europe in 2010, due to the ash cloud created by Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. The natural event was a costly nightmare for the aviation industry and for those passengers stranded for weeks in foreign countries.

Easyjet intends to start tests in August this year on AVOID technology, which has been developed by Dr Fred Prata, and which senses ash particles in the air at altitudes between 5,000 and 50,000 feet. For the experiment, one Airbus aircraft will distribute the dust while a second Airbus will simulate an unintentional encounter with the cloud and the effectiveness of AVOID. The technology’s software deciphers data from infrared technology developed by the US military to advise pilots and air traffic controllers on the level of risk a dust cloud carries.

Dr Prata was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘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.’

Ian Davies, engineering director for easyJet, 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.’