Budget airline easyJet has called on the aviation industry to collaborate on developing AVOID technology, that would allow aircraft to continue flying even in the event of another volcanic ash cloud, like that emitted by an Icelandic volcano a year ago.
The ash cloud brought European air traffic to a standstill for the best part of a week and inflicted significant extra costs on airlines. At the time some questioned whether European authorities had over-reacted with British Airways boss Willie Walsh even taking to the skies in a bid to prove that the ash cloud was not dangerous.
EasyJet however reacted by investing in what it called the AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) system, that acts as a radar for ash cloud's and extreme weather, such as the snow which also disrupted air travel last winter.
Since easyJet began investing in the technology, which was developed in Norway by Dr. Fred Prata, the company has developed a prototype which is ready for testing. In addition the airline is in talks with the European Commission to get extra funding for the development of the technology.
EasyJet claims that if a 100 aircraft were fitted with AVOID, of which 20 would be easyJet's, then they would be able to provide a comprehensive real time map of ash clouds and extreme weather across the continent. In theory this would mean that another ash cloud such as the one last year could simply be bypassed by pilots and would not lead to the grounding of all of Europe.
Ian Davies, Head of Engineering at easyJet, said. "Last winter we were told that the heavy snowfall was a once in a lifetime event and then it happened again ten months later. We can't predict exactly when another volcano will erupt and send an ash cloud into European airspace but we can say with certainty that it will happen at some stage.
"Our industry is better prepared today that it was last year but we need to go further. easyJet is playing its part by working closely with Dr. Fred Prata and his team to progress the development of the AVOID technology, and we call for more support from the rest of the industry for this and other new solutions to deal with the volcanic threat."
Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, added, "We welcome this type of initiative and encourage other UK operators to explore solutions to the problems volcanic ash poses to aircraft. Following last year's disruption the CAA has continued to work with the international aviation community to develop both the industry's understanding of ash and measures to reduce disruption to passengers, while ensuring high levels of safety. Passengers have a right to expect the aviation industry to do everything possible to lessen future ash related disruption."