Volcanic 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]