EasyJet invests in 17 year old infra-red technology

EasyJet has invested in trials of infra-red technology that can detect small quantities of volcanic ash in the atmosphere up to 100km away.

The system, called the Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (AVOID) involves two infra-red cameras fitted to the tailfin of aircraft and was developed by Dr Fred Prata (pictured), senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) in 1993. Until the recent spread of volcanic ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull glacier, no manufacturer or airline had been prepared to invest in the technology.

Supported by The Civil Aviation Authority, the trials will cost EasyJet £1million.

Dr Prata developed the camera which provides five minute warnings both day and night about ash ahead and employed an algorithm to calculate the particle size, the quantity of ash and emission concentration of ash clouds. The infrared camera is already developed and tested for ground measurements and the prototype for air travel has been tested and patented.

The airline will fit the AVOID system to an Airbus A340 to allow manufacturer Airbus to conduct tests close to erupting volcanoes around the world, as well as to 12 of its own aircraft to collect data from routine flights across Europe.

Prata said: "Using the infrared camera, satellite data and algorithms that convert data from satellites, aircrafts will be able to get the necessary notifications every time they approach a volcanic ash cloud. The aircraft will then be able to steer clear of clouds and continue the journey instead of being put on the ground for an indefinite amount of time, as they do today."

Chris Shaw

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