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Airline launches ash cloud detector

Low-cost airline easyJet has launched an experiment with aircraft radar to detect volcanic ash clouds.

The airline said the devices -- designed to be placed on an aircraft's tail fin and detect ash clouds within 60 miles -- are the first of their kind and could prevent a repeat of the shutdown of airspace in April caused by the Icelandic volcano.

The airline is spending €1.2m developing and testing the technology with aircraft manufacturer Airbus and hopes to roll out the devices in a dozen of its planes by the end of the year.

The Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (AVOID) technology is designed to work like the weather detection systems already in use for spotting thunderstorms.


A lightweight infra-red device would provide images to both the pilots and an airline's flight control centre, and would enable pilots to see an ash cloud at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000 ft.

"This pioneering technology is the silver bullet that will make large-scale ash disruption history," easyJet chief Andy Harrison said.

However, use of the devices will need approval from regulators across Europe and industrywide adoption to have a significant effect.

Jeremie Teahan, a spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency, said the regulator welcomed "applications to certify any equipment that has the potential to increase flight safety" but noted that one had not yet been received from easyJet.

The airline said it intends to share the technology.