Friday 20 April 2018

Video: EasyJet to fit fleet with ash detectors

Steven Rothwell

EasyJet Plc will become the first airline in the world to fit its fleet with ash-detection gear in an effort to minimize disruption from volcanic eruptions.

Equipment that uses infra-red technology to evaluate the density of dust will be attached to a dozen aircraft at a cost of £1m within the next 12 months, Chief Executive Officer Andy Harrison said today in London.

European airline traffic fell 11.7pc in April, exceeding the worst declines at the height of the recession, as ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano grounded flights.

Carriers lost at least $1.7bn in the first six days of the event, according to industry figures, and while the crater is now quiet, volcanologists say another eruption is possible.

“I believe this will become standard in the same way weather radar has become standard,” Harrison said in an interview.

“It’s a substantial piece of technology that will allow us to deal with volcanic ash in the same way that we deal with thunderstorms. Thunderstorms don’t stop aircraft flying.”

The system features two infra-red cameras and a transmitter fitted to a plane’s tail, allowing conditions to be assessed according to real data rather than estimates and improving the mapping of dust plumes, Harrison said.

While the technology was devised in 1993 and airlines have long known that abrasive, silica-based material from volcanoes can clog engines and scar windshields, there was no interest from the industry until the eruption on April 14, according to inventor Fred Prata of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research.

‘Next time’

“It’s a very good scientific idea but there was no commercial case,” Prata said today in an interview.

“But volcanoes have been around for millions of years and there is activity all over the planet, so there will be a next time.”

Whereas the US Federal Aviation Administration imposes a 120 mile-buffer zone around areas of visible ash, Eurocontrol, which governs Europe’s flight paths, currently bases no-fly areas on models from the UK Met Office’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center that assess dust density according to weather forecasts.

When Eyjafjallajökull erupted, authorities ordered pilots to avoid all ash. On April 20, the threshold was changed so they could fly through plumes where 0.002 grams of ash was present per cubic meter of air.

On May 18, that was doubled, subject to an airline getting approval from the engine maker.

CAA backing

Andrew Haines, the head of the Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority, attended today’s briefing and said that the air-safety regulator backs the EasyJet plan.

“If this had been fitted, and it does what it says on the tin, it would have helped considerably,” Haines said in an interview.

“This would have given us a number of aircraft flying and told us what level of ash was actually there.”

The first test flight of the equipment will be carried out by Airbus SAS on behalf by Luton, England-based EasyJet within the next two months using an A340 aircraft, Harrison said.

The Icelandic eruption “could not have come at a worse time” for European carriers, Giovanni Bisignani, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, said on May 27, with the region’s currency crisis and slow emergence from the recession already a “huge burden” on profitability.


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