easyJet unveils anti-ash cloud device plan

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British budget airline easyJet announced on Friday it was testing technology which could help pilots detect ash clouds from up to 100 kilometres away, potentially reducing disruption from volcanic eruptions.

The group said in a statement it would be the first airline in the world to test the gadget, which is called AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) and works in a similar way to weather radars now used on planes.

Test flights are expected to be carried out by European aircraft maker Airbus within two months. easyJet hopes to have it installed on a dozen aircraft by the end of the year at a cost of around a million pounds (1.2 million euros, 1.5 million dollars).

"This pioneering technology is the silver bullet that will make large-scale ash disruption history," easyJet chief executive Andy Harrison said in the statement.

"The ash detector will enable our aircraft to see and avoid the ash cloud, just like airborne weather radars and weather maps make thunderstorms visible."

The Civil Aviation Authority said it welcomed airlines' efforts to minimise ash cloud disruption, adding: "We will do all we can to faciliate them".

Ash clouds from an Icelandic volcano forced the closure of large parts of European airspace in April, causing travel chaos for millions of people.

© 2010 AFP

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