Simple technology can track ash clouds

Pilots could fly around any clouds

June 2010

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Simple infrared technology can be added to commercial aircraft that would detect the location of ash clouds, negating the need to ground all aircraft. The recent volcanic eruption cost airlines millions and could erupt in the future bringing further anguish to both travellers and the travel industry. A scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Dr Fred Prata, has come up with infrared technology that can be easily installed in aircraft to detect an ash cloud from up to 60 miles away at altitudes of between 5,000ft ant 50,000ft.

The images can be relayed to ground control to help airports best monitor any approaching clouds. The technology is based on airborne weather radar systems and is relatively cheap compared to the cost of the disruption to the travel industry as seen earlier this year. EasyJet are planning on spending around £1million on developing and installing the system in around a dozen aircraft by the end of 2010.

The EasyJet chief executive, Andy Harrison, has said that “The ash detector will enable our aircraft to see and avoid the ash cloud, just like airborne weather radars and weather maps make thunderstorms visible”. He went on to say “The most difficult thing for this will not be the money. It will be getting the European authorities to figure out what they are going to do with this technology”.

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LGW