Airbus’ A340 being used for testing volcanic ash detection system

12 July 2012 Feature story

New equipment to detect atmospheric volcanic ash is being flown on Airbus’ A340-300 testbed aircraft, demonstrating sensor technology that could help airliners avoid potentially hazardous encounters with plumes created when volcanoes erupt.

This testing began on 4 July, and is the result of a teaming involving the UK-based easyJet airline; Norway’s Nicarnica Aviation, a supplier of remote sensing solutions for detection and measurement of aviation hazards; and Airbus. 

Being evaluated during these A340-300 flight trials is the AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Infrared Detector) ash detection device, which is designed to give vital, real-time information on actual amounts of ash in the atmosphere during a volcanic eruption. Such data could enable aircraft to avoid areas of ash concentration, which pose a risk to jet engines.

“We are all working towards reducing the impact of volcanic ash clouds, and under these conditions, the infrared technology being developed in AVOID could prove to become valuable in terms of safely managing air transport in the European Union, and also optimising flight paths,” said Axel Krein, Airbus’ Senior Vice President of Research and Technology. “This is why Airbus supports development of such technologies, helping to allow the airlines to take necessary decisions for a safe flight under the full knowledge of the overall situation.”

Following the current series of tests, the A340-300 testbed could be used to evaluate the AVOID detection device in volcanic eruption conditions should one occur, with target areas being Alaska, Indonesia, Japan and Iceland – where the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano closed European airspace for several days, causing millions of passengers to be stranded  in Europe and around the world.

 In related activity at this week’s Farnborough Airshow, AVOID system designer Dr. Fred Prata of Nicarnica Aviation and easyJet Engineering Director Ian Davies received the Aviators of the Year award – given annually to the team or individuals that advance aviation safety. This distinction is awarded by Flightglobal, a leading aerospace news and information organisation. 

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