EasyJet makes a dash for ash

This first appeared as a Comment in the 14 May issue of Flight International

EasyJet’s move to develop volcanic ash tracking technology shows impressive lateral thinking. Not, in fact, the kind of thinking normally associated with the stereotype of a low-cost carrier.

Anyone who doubts that assertion should test it by trying to imagine Ryanair investing time and money developing a similar system. For all the raucous protests by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary when his airline was grounded in April 2010 because of airborne ash, investing in a system that would not deliver specific advantage to Ryanair is not his style. But, to be fair, IAG boss Willie Walsh – then chief of British Airways – protested just as loudly at the time, but has not matched EasyJet’s imagination either.

As with all experimental systems, there is a financial risk. After all, this aircraft-mounted ash detector – known as Avoid – is not guaranteed to be a total success. So, with airlines presently at their most risk-averse, why is EasyJet, with Airbus and Nicarnica Aviation, taking the risk? The answer is that an ash cloud will definitely affect European airspace in the future. With some of its aircraft fitted with Avoid, EasyJet may be airborne with loads of zero-discount passengers when its competition is grounded.

But actually, and EasyJet knows this, aircraft-mounted Avoid will play its part with other sensor technologies in keeping the skies usable when ash threatens.

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