Volcanic activity on opposite sides of the globe has put airlines on alert and threatened to disrupt air travel. However, thanks to advances in detection technology, experts say planes are now safer from the risk of volcanic eruptions than they’ve ever been.
Among the advances is a device that allows pilots to “see” volcanic ash clouds. It uses infra-red imaging to spot danger 60 miles ahead at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet.
The technology, known as AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector), was developed by Norway’s Nicarnia Aviation, and is attached to the aircraft much like the now-standard weather radar. AVOID underwent tests with Airbus late last year in which the aircraft maker deployed an unusual manmade ash cloud to see how the device performed. Britain’s Easyjet has signed on as the first airline customer, and Nicarnia has teamed with Elbit systems to crank up production.
In addition to helping pilots route planes around the worst of the ash, the AVOID technology will also send real-time data to the ground, where airlines and air traffic control managers could use it to calculate a more accurate picture of an ash cloud’s dimensions. That could keep travel disruptions to a minimum as less airspace would need to closed off.