easyJet, Airbus and Nicarnica aviation successfully create first ever significant artificial ash cloud for test purposes

easyJet, Airbus and Nicarnica aviation successfully create first ever significant artificial ash cloud for test purposes


During the experiment the test team successfully:

  • Generated an artificial ash cloud over the bay of Biscay by releasing a tonne of volcanic ash using an A400M aircraft. 
  • Measured the ash concentration with a small aircraft flying through the ash cloud
  • Flew an A340-300 fitted with the AVOID sensor towards the ash cloud and successfully identified the ash from distances of 60km as well as accurately measuring its concentration
  • easyJet plans to continue development with a view to mounting stand-alone units on some of its current fleet of aircraft by the end of 2014 thereby providing a solution which would mean we should not encounter the widespread air space closures of 2010 again      

easyJet, the UK's largest airline, along with its partners Airbus and Nicarnica Aviation, has successfully completed the final stage of testing for the AVOID volcanic ash technology through a unique experiment involving the creation of an artificial ash cloud. 

An Airbus test plane dispersed one tonne of Icelandic ash into the atmosphere at between 9,000ft and 11,000ft thereby creating conditions consistent with the 2010 eruption, a second Airbus test aircraft, with the AVOID technology fitted, flew towards the ash cloud identifying and measuring it from around 60km away.  The experiment also used a small aircraft, a DA42 from Dusseldorf University, to fly into the ash cloud to take measurements which help to corroborate the measurements made by the AVOID system. 

The ash cloud produced during the test was between 600ft and 800ft deep measuring 2.8km in diameter. At the beginning the ash cloud was visible to the naked eye but dissipated quickly becoming difficult to identify using visible light.  

The AVOID volcanic sensor detected the ash cloud and measured its density  which ranged from 0.1 to 1 g m-2 – or concentrations of 100 to 1000 µg m-3 within the range of concentrations measured during the Eyjafjallajokul ash crisis in April and May 2010. 

Between 15 and 21 April 2010 Europe experienced an unprecedented closure of airspace. During this time 80% less flights operated with more than 100,000 flights cancelled in total. The gross losses of the global aviation industry was an estimated $2.6bn as a result of the air space closures. 

The ash used in the test was from the 2010 Eyjafjallajokul eruption.  It was collected and dried by the Institute of Earth Sciences in Reykjavik. easyJet then collected it and flew it to Toulouse. 

The ash, which was the consistency of fine talc, recreated accurately the conditions of 2010. Creating an ash cloud provided the team with an advantage because they knew exactly how much ash was in the atmosphere.  

The AVOID system can be likened to a weather radar for ash. Created by Dr Fred Prata of Nicarnica Aviation, the system utilises infrared technology fitted to aircraft to supply images to pilots and an airline’s operations control centre. The images will enable pilots to see an ash cloud, up to 100km ahead of the aircraft and at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000ft, thus allowing them to make small adjustments to the plane’s flight path to avoid any ash cloud. The concept is very similar to weather radars which are standard on commercial airliners today.

On the ground, information from aircraft with AVOID technology would be used to build an accurate image of the volcanic ash cloud using real time data. This could open up large areas of airspace that would otherwise be closed during a volcanic eruption, which would benefit passengers by minimising disruption.

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About Airbus 

Airbus is a leading aircraft manufacturer with the most modern and comprehensive family of airliners on the market, ranging in capacity from 100 to more than 500 seats. Airbus champions innovative technologies and offers some of the world's most fuel efficient and quiet aircraft. Airbus has sold over 13,300 aircraft to more than 350 customers worldwide, and has delivered more than 8,000 aircraft since the first Airbus aircraft entered into service. Airbus is a global company with design and manufacturing facilities in France, Germany, the UK and Spain as well as subsidiaries in the U.S., China, Japan and in the Middle East. Headquartered in Toulouse, France, Airbus is an EADS company.

About easyJet 

easyJet operates Europe's No. 1 air transport network with a leading presence on Europe's top 100 routes and at Europe's 50 largest airports.

easyJet flies over 200 aircraft on more than 600 routes between over 130 airports in 30 countries. More than 300 million Europeans live within one hour's drive of an easyJet airport, more than any other airline.

The airline takes sustainability seriously. easyJet invests in the latest technology, operates efficiently and fills most of its seats which means that an easyJet passenger's carbon footprint is 22% less than a passenger on a traditional airline, flying the same aircraft on the same route.

About Nicarnica 

Nicarnica Aviation AS is a Norwegian based company specializing in infrared and ultraviolet remote sensing technologies. The company has launched the world’s first airborne sensors for remote detection of volcanic ash.

The Norwegian based company offer a number of technologies for a range of applications for the improvement of airport safety and efficiency.  

Nicarnica Aviation AS was founded in 2010, as a spin off from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU). It is a relatively young company with a highly skilled team of scientists and engineers.  

The cutting edge technologies are a result of the company’s focus on research and development.