Volcanic ash? No longer a problem…

It looks as if pilots will soon be able to weave between patches of atmospheric volcanic ash as they can weave around ordinary visible clouds.

Israel-based Elbit Systems and Norwegian company Nicarnica Aviation  have agreed to integrate sensor data from a volcanic ash cloud detector system into a cockpit enhanced vision display.

Engineering director of UK-based EasyJet, Ian Davies, who has long been cooperating with Nicarnica in the development of its AVOID (airborne volcanic object imaging detector) ash cloud detection system, says the airline will fit the integrated system into its aircraft soon after the first production version becomes available in 2015.

The agreement sees Elbit integrating AVOID software with its own enhanced vision cameras, and feeding the sensor information into its existing ClearVision enhanced vision system to provide pilots with a picture of volcanic ash clouds ahead. Initially, EasyJet pilots will see the picture on their Panasonic Toughbook tablet-based Class 2 electronic flight bag displays mounted just below the DV windscreens to the captain’s left and the copilot’s right.

Airbus, also fully involved in the programme, wants to see the display eventually integrated with the main avionics, but the EFB solution will see the capability introduced much earlier.

It has been established that, after a volcanic eruption, ash tends not to be present throughout the atmosphere, but in clouds rather like ordinary clouds, so if pilots can see them, they can fly around, above or below them as if avoiding storms using weather radar.

This will give an equipped airline the ability to fly when atmospheric volcanic ash is known to be present, while non-equipped aircraft will be grounded as they were for a week throughout Europe in early April 2010 following the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull.

At the signing, which took place at Farnborough air show, Yoram Shmueli, General Manager of Elbit Systems’ Aerospace Division, commented: “Working with Nicarnia is another step in implementing our strategy to provide our customers additional applications and operational capabilities using our cutting-edge ClearVision EFVS family of products”. Ove Bratsberg, CEO of Nicarnica Aviation, said:  ““We are excited and looking forward to our collaboration with Elbit Systems. 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.”

Dr Fred Prata, chief technical officer at Nicarnica and inventor of the AVOID technology, said: “A significant step forward has been taken in realising the first commercial offering of the AVOID system on board EasyJet’s aircraft fleet.  Nicarnica Aviation’s business relationship with Elbit Systems, a large avionics supplier, ensures that the AVOID system will meet industry standards and will accelerate its commercial development.”

Fred Prata added: “Integration of the system onto the aircraft is the last technical challenge and we expect to see the first EasyJet aircraft flying with the system in the very near future.”

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