easyJet has unveiled a radar system that will allow airlines to safely fly around ash clouds.
The device incorporates infra-red technology that highlights potentially damaging particles within a 100km radius. This would enable the pilot to then change course and continue to fly safely.
The system, called Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector (AVOID), is the first of its kind and aims to prevent a repeat of the chaos caused by the closure of European airspace due to an erupting volcano in Iceland.
It will be tested by Airbus on behalf of Easyjet within the next two months. The budget carrier hopes to have the system in operation on 12 planes by the end of the year.
The system has the backing of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which decides whether it is safe to fly through ash or not. The body has come under criticism from airlines for its “over cautious” stance during the recent airspace closures.
Easyjet chief executive, Andy Harrison, said: “This pioneering technology is the silver bullet that will make large-scale ash disruption history.”
“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.”
However AVOID will need Europe-wide approval by regulators.
The CAA said it was happy an airline appeared to have found a technical solution, and, although it was not endorsing the product it would do what it could to aid certification.
Easyjet’s travel figures for last month, released this morning, showed 215,000 of its passengers had their travel plans disrupted because of volcanic ash and 1,600 flights were cancelled.
Despite the impact of the ash cloud, the expansion of the low-cost carrier meant that it still flew 7.9% more people in May than a year ago.
The average load factor of the plane, an important measure of airline efficiency, was 85.8%, compared with 83.5% in May 2009.
A total of 4.25 million people took a flight with Easyjet in May, up from 3.95 million last year.