Airline Hopes To Avoid Volcanic Ash Clouds With New Technology

volcanic ashVolcanic ash is something commercial airliners want nothing to do with. When Alaska’s Cleveland volcano erupted not long ago, shooting low levels of ash into the atmosphere, many airlines were concerned. Another blast could send ash higher, directly into their flight path between Asia and North America, causing major flight schedule disruptions. But while most airlines watch and wait, one is taking some proactive steps to deal with volcanic activity.

Ash clouds are a major problem for commercial airliners, which can literally fall out of the sky if they attempt to fly through one. The problem is the tiny volcanic ash particles. If they get into a jet engine, ash particles can block the ventilation holes that let in air to cool the engine. Accumulate enough of them and engine heat can transform the particles back into molten lava, something you don’t want in your jet engine. In 2010, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano ejected an ash plume 30,000 feet into the sky, crippling airlines in northwest Europe for days as nearly 20 airports closed their airspace.Looking for ways to minimize the effect of volcanic eruptions, EasyJet has partnered with aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Nicarnica Aviation, a company that specializes in remote sensing technology to detect ash at the speed and altitude of commercial aircraft. To do that, EasyJet will fly a ton of volcanic ash from Iceland to an Airbus base in France where it will test the new uses for infrared technology-based Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector (AVOID) equipment in August.

During the test, an Airbus plane will disperse the ash into the atmosphere and create an artificial ash cloud. A second Airbus test aircraft equipped with AVOID technology will (hopefully) detect and avoid the artificial ash cloud at over 30,000 feet.

Want to see an ash cloud up close, as it is being created? Check out this video:



[Image credit - Flickr user coolinsights]

Alaska Volcano Erupts, Air Travel Disruption Possible

Alaska Volcano It’s been nearly two years since scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) warned that Alaska’s Cleveland volcano could erupt at any time, issuing a code yellow eruption advisory. Saturday, those scientists were proven more than right.

“We haven’t seen a phase like this where we’ve had multiple explosions,” Rick Wessels, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey‘s Alaska Volcano Observatory, told Reuters in a Christian Science Monitor report.

Over the weekend, the Cleveland volcano erupted, spewing gas, steam and low levels of ash 15,000 feet into the atmosphere, directly into the commercial airline flight path between Asia and North America. While disruption in the atmosphere at 15,000 feet is well below the normal 35,000 feet cruising altitude of commercial aircraft, the concern is that further eruptions could disrupt air traffic, much like Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano (pictured) did in 2010.Then, nearly 20 European countries closed their airspace after a secondary eruption ejected an ash plume that rose to a height of 30,000 feet. For now, scientists wait and watch.

[Image credit - Flickr user finnur.malmquist]