Airbus to test ash-detector for EasyJet on A340

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Airbus is planning to test an infra-red detector which is designed to pick up traces of volcanic ash, using an A340 platform for the trial.

It is to perform the test in co-operation with UK budget airline EasyJet, a prominent Airbus customer, using technology developed by the Norwegian air research organisation Norsk Institutt for Luftforskning (NILU).

Airbus has been conducting test flights aimed at establishing the extent of the threat from volcanic ash, following the eruption in Iceland in April.

Details of the detection project are still emerging but EasyJet says the equipment is "essentially a weather-radar for ash" and claims it provides images of ash concentrations up to 100km (55nm) ahead of the aircraft.

It operates at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000ft, the carrier adds, and the images are also transmitted to airline operations control personnel.

The equipment, which is known as 'AVOID', has been developed by NILU senior scientist Fred Prata. He says the equipment "enhances the theory" relating to volcanic ash location with "live data".

Airlines heavily criticised the computer-based modelling which was used to predict ash concentrations over Europe from the Icelandic activity, and which resulted in extensive airspace closures before tolerance limits for aircraft were revised.

EasyJet chief Andy Harrison describes the technology as a "silver bullet" which will "make large-scale ash disruption history". The UK Civil Aviation Authority says it welcomes the effort, and intends to "facilitate" the work.

NILU confines itself simply to saying it "looks forward to continued work to provide a better understanding of the risks on aviation, human health and environment from volcanic eruptions".