UK airline to create volcanic ash cloud to test

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The UK budget airline easyJet has plans to create an artificial volcanic ash cloud somewhere above Europe to test new ash detection technology.

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Source: commons.wikimedia.org
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

In an effort to avoid future travel chaos similar to the spring of 2010 when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted, easyJet said on May 7, 2013 that it had obtained a ton of the volcano's ash to conduct tests of new technologies. The airline plans to make an artificial ash plume to fly through.

"There is currently no radar technology that can detect ash, and even in daylight the pilot can't see it. The onboard technology will allow us to give a 3D picture of where the ash cloud is and where it is moving… we'll be able to determine where it is and fly in areas that are absolutely safe." Ian Davies, easyJet Engineering Director

The Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector (AVOID) system had its first trial above Italy's Mt. Etna in Dec. 2012.

The airline, along with its partners, plan to create an artificial ash plume to fly through under "controlled conditions." An easyJet plane will be outfitted with technology similar to a weather radar to detect ash from up to 60 miles away, allowing the pilot to adjust the flight path.

For the test using the Icelandic volcano ash, a plane will dump a ton of ash from about 30,000 feet above a location yet to be determined, likely in France, this August. A second plane with the technology will attempt to detect and maneuver around the plume.

When Eyjafjallajokul erupted in 2010, more than 100,000 flights were ground and 10 million travelers disrupted--economies lost as much as 2.5 billion euros. Many eruptions have occurred since, including on May 4 off Alaska's coast, but none have caused the same mass inconvenience.

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