Easyjet to trial volcanic ash detection system
Easyjet has unveiled a system that it says will allow airlines to safely fly around ash clouds.
It involves infra-red technology that allows pilots to see the damaging particles up to 62 miles ahead.
The theory is that a pilot can then change course and continue to fly safely.
It has the support of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the body that decides whether it is safe to fly through ash in UK airspace.
The CAA said it was happy an airline appeared to have found a technical solution, and, although it was not endorsing the product, it would do what it could to help certification.'Silver bullet'
Earlier this year, many air passengers had their travel plans wrecked when airlines had to scrap thousands of flights due to the Icelandic volcanic ash problem.
The CAA faced criticism from some airlines, who argued that the body had been overly cautious.
Easyjet chief executive, Andy Harrison, said: "This pioneering technology is the silver bullet that will make large-scale ash disruption history."
The new system, called Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (Avoid), will be tested by Airbus on behalf of Easyjet within the next two months.
Easyjet, which is spending £1m ($1.47m) on the system, says it is happy for rivals to share its knowledge.
Mr Harrison, said: "What we don't want to do is to gain a commercial advantage over other airlines so we can fly and they can't. We are not going to exclude people from this technology."
AVOID: THE THEORY
Easyjet's proposed Avoid system will work in theory by spotting ash at sufficient distances to allow air traffic controllers enough time to re-plan flight paths. It will also act as a "spy in the sky" - giving traffic control extra detail on any ash clouds that are out there. The device, which works using infra-red technology but essentially looks like another radar in the cockpit, is light, small and easy to install.
It differs from an existing ash measuring device, a Lidar, used by the Met Office, which at one stage was also suggested as a way to enable aircraft to avoid ash. A Lidar essentially looks only in the direction you point it in, and needs time to draw an informative picture.
He said the hardest part would be to get approval from European authorities.Ash damage
Easyjet said the volcanic ash disruption had cost it up to £75m.
Its passenger figures for last month, showed 215,000 of its own passengers had their travel plans disrupted because of volcanic ash and 1,600 flights were cancelled.
Despite the impact of the ash cloud, the expansion of the no-frills airline meant that it still flew 7.9% more people in May than a year ago.
The average load factor of the plane, an important measure of airline efficiency, was 85.8% compared with 83.5% in May 2009.
A total of 4.25 million people took a flight with Easyjet in May, up from 3.95 million last year.