easyJet (UK) (London-Luton) and Nicarnica Aviation have entered a partnership with Airbus to test the AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector) ash detection equipment on their A340-300 test aircraft at the speed and altitude of commercial aircraft.
The first phase of testing is taking place from July 4 through 14and initial test flights at altitudes of up to 40,000 feet have been successful. The tests on the A340 include mounting the equipment externally on the left side of the aircraft fuselage, with recording equipment and real-time monitors placed inside the cabin allowing viewing of the sky ahead. The flights have been performed near Airbus’ home base at Toulouse, France, to first assess the sensor’s physical behaviour when mounted on the aircraft and exposed to flight environment and then the performance of the detection system without the presence of volcanic ash.
If volcanic activity happens during this test phase at Stromboli or Etna the aircraft may then be flown to Italy to test the equipment at commercial jet flight altitudes and speeds against any volcanic ash emitted. Alternatively, if the meteorological conditions allow then the test aircraft will in the next few days fly over the Atlantic Ocean west of Morocco to prove the equipment can detect the fine particles of sand at altitudes of up to 20,000 feet and a distance of up to 50km, using the Saharan Air Layer as a proxy for volcanic ash.
The AVOID equipment has been fitted to the Airbus test aircraft, which the Civil Aviation Authority asked to be made available during the period running up to and during the forthcoming Olympics. Now that the first phase of testing is successfully underway, easyJet, Nicarnica Aviation and Airbus have been able to commit to providing this ash detection support.
In the event of a volcanic eruption sending ash towards UK airspace, AVOID would give vital, real time information on the actual amounts of ash in the atmosphere. When incorporated into the safe fly protocols now agreed by the industry and overseen by the CAA and other ash measurement data and prediction models operated by the Met Office, this could enable aircraft to fly safely to and from London and the rest of the UK.