Flight-testing of an experimental technology called Avoid, an infrared camera capable of detecting ash-cloud particles before an aircraft might encounter them, has proved successful. Volcanic ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano grounded aviation across much of northern Europe for a week in 2010.
The Avoid experiment, jointly sponsored by Airbus, Easyjet and Nicarnica Aviation, was conducted over the Bay of Biscay in the eastern Atlantic off the French coast. An A400M four-turboprop cargo aircraft flew a circular test pattern between 9,000 and 11,000 feet dispersing Icelandic ash to re-create the 2010 conditions. The test cloud, which contained particles invisible to the naked eye, measured approximately 600 to 800 feet in depth and two miles in diameter.
An Airbus A340-300 test aircraft fitted with the Avoid pod flew toward the ash cloud, detecting and identifying it from about 40 miles away. Airbus plans to certify and offer the Avoid system on Airbus aircraft as an ash-avoidance tool.
In a 1982 incident, all four engines aboard a British Airways Boeing 747 flamed out after that aircraft flew into an ash cloud near Indonesia. The aircraft descended nearly 25,000 feet before the crew was able to restart the engines.