Airbus is collaborating with EasyJet and Nicarnica Aviation to test a device capable of detecting volcanic ash - the Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector (AVOID) system.

The device has been fitted to an Airbus A340, which underwent the first phase of tests between 4 - 14 July at the airframer's Toulouse base.

EasyJet says the next stage of tests could see the aircraft flown to Italy if volcanic activity is reported near Mount Stromboli or Mount Etna.

Alternatively, the partners are considering flying the A340 over the Atlantic ocean west of Morocco, using fine sand particles blown up from the Sahara desert as a proxy for volcanic ash.

The aim would be to establish whether AVOID can detect particles of sand at altitudes of up to 20,000ft (6,096m) and a distance of up to 50km (31 miles).

The equipment is mounted externally on the aircraft fuselage, with recording equipment and real-time monitors placed inside the cabin.

In April 2010, more than 100,000 European flights were grounded following the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano. The disruption cost airlines $1.7 billion over six days.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news