In April 2010, when an eruption by an Icelandic volcano grounded European aviation for a week, two people formed a unique partnership. EasyJet's head of engineering and technical director, Ian Davies, suspected the grounding was an overreaction but did not have the data to convince the authorities, so he contacted Fred Prata at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), an expert in atmospheric contamination. Prata was working on an airborne infrared ash detection and avoidance system called AVOID, but lacked a credible aviation partner to help develop the system. Davies convinced the EasyJet board that a partnership with Prata and NILU could provide aviation with one of the potential solutions to prevent a total grounding next time a major ash event occurs in Europe, initiating an ongoing partnership that is advancing atmospheric science and operational solutions to airborne volcanic ash.
Davies is still at EasyJet, where he is responsible for the airworthiness of its 204 Airbus A320 family of aircraft. He runs a team of around 250 support managers and engineering staff who ensure the no-frills carrier's aircraft are kept well maintained, serviceable and on the ground for as little time as possible
Since the start of his involvement with Prata on the project to equip EasyJet and the wider fleet with ash detection capability, Davies has become recognised as an industry expert on the subject of volcanic ash and its effects on aircraft, and has recently agreed to participate with a European team of expert scientific research agencies as a full partner, with the aim of testing the effects of volcanic ash on turbine engine components. This should provide viable evidence of turbine engines' tolerance limit to ash and further increase the depth of knowledge about how to operate safely in contaminated airspace.
Davies is a Licensed Aircraft Engineer with over 35 years of experience in civil aviation and has worked for EasyJet for almost four years. Before his appointment at EasyJet, he was director of engineering at BMI for seven years.
Prata is a senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute for NILU in Kjeller, Norway, where he leads and contributes to Earth observation and climate research using satellite data. He is also Adjunct Professor at the Department of Geological Engineering and Sciences at the Michigan Technological University, Houghton, USA, and in 2009 became a joint founder and director of Nicarnica, a commercial offshoot of NILU.
Prata is a specialist in the physics of remote sensing of the atmosphere and has published papers on atmospheric temperature retrievals, the dynamics of travelling waves in the stratosphere, remotely sensed land surface temperatures and infrared retrievals of volcanic aerosols and gases.
He was educated at Imperial College, London University and the University of Oxford, and has had more than 25 years' experience in utilising satellite-borne instruments to probe the Earth's atmosphere. He has been involved in the satellite programs of Nimbus 5, Nimbus 6, ERS-1 and ERS-2 and more recently with ADEOS-I and II, GOSAT and the NASA/Terra platform.
Prata is a principal investigator on several international space-related projects, including the European Space Agency's ENVISAT and GMES programmes, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's GOSAT and is a co-investigator on two NASA projects. His main interests lie in the utilisation of high spectral resolution infrared measurements of atmospheric trace gases and aerosols to study and quantify their effects on climate, as well as ongoing technology commercialisation activities. He is a co-investigator on a project to validate and inter-compare sulphur dioxide retrievals from the Aura OMI and Aqua AIRS instruments.
He also has a strong interest in volcanic ash as a natural hazard, and is involved in two large EU FP7 hazards projects (MIA-VITA and SAFER), as well as holding several patents on a hazards detection system based on remote sensing.
In January 2006, Prata left the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia to become more involved with the European remote sensing community and is currently working at NILU.
Easyjet's Ian Davies (first from the right) with Fred Prata's wife, Alison