The volcanic ash detecting radar was tested in an experiment using an artificial volcanic cloud

EasyJet to introduce on-board volcanic ash detectors

On-board volcanic ash detectors, enabling pilots to spot dangerous ash clouds  could soon become a standard cockpit equipment with EasyJet looking to become the first to implement the technology

Essentially a modified airborne weather radar, the AVOID system, developed by Nicarnica Aviation, relies on infra-red sensors that provide images to pilots and airline’s operations control centres.

On Wednesday, Nicarnica has announced entering into an exclusive partnership with international defence electronics company Elbit Systems to integrate the AVOID system into Elbit Systems’ Enhanced Vision System (EVS) cameras, with the aim to make it available to commercial airlines.

“We are excited and looking forward to our collaboration with Elbit Systems,” said Nicarnica’s CEO Ove Bratsberg. “This will take us closer to realizing the goal of an on-board ash detection system and offering it worldwide within the shortest possible time.”

Nicarnica set out to develop the system in the wake of the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which had crippled the European aviation sector, causing extensive economic losses.

With no means of immediate monitoring and forecasting of the spread of the volcanic ash, the Eyjafjallajökull incident forced authorities to order a complete closure of big parts of the European aerospace as hard and tiny volcanic ash particles could damage aircraft engines.

If such a situation happens again, aircraft equipped with the AVOID instrument will likely be able to continue flying. The system enables pilots to see the dangerous matter in the atmosphere up to 100km ahead of the aircraft at altitudes between 1,500m to 15km. Thus the pilots, and air traffic controllers, who get the information in real time, can adjust the aircraft’s trajectory in order to avoid the dangerous areas without having to ground entire fleets.

The technology was tested by European planemaker Airbus last November through a unique experiment which involved the creation of an artificial ash cloud.

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."

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