In 2010 the eruption of an Icelandic volcano paralyzed air traffic for six days. Due to the high atmospheric concentration of volcanic ash, which can damage jet engines or even stop them functioning completely, more than 100,000 flights were cancelled. The financial loss suffered by airlines due to this event has also been estimated at more than two and a half billion dollars. To be able to detect these tiny particles, a new radar system called 'Avoid' has therefore been developed.
Fred Prata, director of Nicarnica Aviation: Interview in the video.
And to test this detection system under real conditions, significant resources have been implemented. One ton of ash was collected at the foot of the volcano concerned, and then, on 31 October last, an Airbus Military A400M went into action over the Bay of Biscay, which is contained by the coasts of western France and northern Spain.
Robert Lafontan, senior vice-president engineering at Airbus: Interview in the video.
An A340 equipped with the detector was able to successfully identify the ash at a distance of 60 km (37 miles). To corroborate the measurements recorded, another aircraft, bristling with sensors, passed through the same artificial volcanic ash cloud. British airline easyJet, partly involved in the project, hopes to use the system within a year; since with around 100 of their aircraft grounded in 2010 they lost $ 87 million.
Ian Davis, head of engineering & maintenance for easyJet: Interview in the video.
As shown here, this radar could be integrated within the fuselage, with the information being transmitted in real time to pilots via a simple touch pad. Thanks to this system, which is at present still in the developmental phase, planes could therefore continue to fly in by-passing ash clouds produced from volcanic eruptions that cost so much in the past.