Last year Easyjet announced that they were funding research into a way of avoiding the volcanic ash cloud aviation crisis. This research is starting to bear fruit as over the past two weeks, pilot Captain Uwe Post has successfully flown over 30 hours around Mount Etna and Stromboli through clouds of ash from the smoldering volcanoes.
The tiny plane has a special piece of technology tied to its wing. It’s designed to detect how much ash and what sized particles are in the air. Typically the ash we can see is so heavy that it drops in a matter of hours, however the most dangerous particles are very difficult to detect from far enough away to avoid easily. The default decision of the understandably safety conscious civil aviation authorities is to block off all of the surrounding areas, as we saw last year with the Icelandic volcano eruption which caused travel chaos for about a month.
So far tests are proving positive, so much so that they are able to produce accurate models of where the ash is and how thick. These tests are only carried out at a speed of 120mph, but to work commercially, the technology would have to work much faster and at higher altitudes.
If it passes its field trials and is approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency then the company will be able to sell it to other airlines, which will mean that Easyjet will be able to recoup their research costs.
Currently scientists are predicting a large eruption from Iceland’s much larger volcano Katla, which if it does erupt, will be far worse than those of Eyjafjallajökull and Grimsvotn.