After the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull threw world air travel into turmoil tests have begun on infra-red camera technology which will allow pilots to steer around clouds and volcanic debris.
A tonne of ash from the Icelandic volcano has been flown to Luton airport in preparation for airborne tests of the imaging system as it was warned that two further volcanos could erupt at any time.
When Eyjafjallajökull blew in 2010 it grounded aircraft for six days, left ten million stranded, cause 100,000 flights to be cancelled, and cost the industry £2.2billion. Flights were also disrupted when a second volcano erupted in 2011.
Iceland,Europe’s youngest country, sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge fault line between two great shifting tectonic plates and has 22 active volcanoes.
Thor Thordarson, Professor of Volcanology at the University of Iceland, told the Times that two of these volcanoes are currently primed to erupt.
“Whether they will erupt tomorrow or in five years, we do not know,” he said.
“There is no question whether they will erupt or not, the question is how big will the eruption be and how long will it last?”
Katla – which lies beneath a glacier like Eyjafjallajökull – is experiencing seismic activity and is bulging up at the surface while Hekla, has grown to the height it was when it last erupted in 2000.
They could erupt with a mere few hours warning, Professor Thordarson said, and it is believed they could create plumes 18 miles high and impact on European airspace for several days if the eruption coincides with north-westerly winds.
After Eyjafjallajökull erupted the Institute of Earth Sciences collected ash – which poses a threat to plane engines – from beneath the glacier.
It will now be used to test the new technology on two airliners by Nicarnica Aviation, easyJet and Airbus.
The technology should allow the aircraft to detect silicate, the main component of the ash, using infra-red sensors, from 30km therefore giving the pilot time to change course.
The August experiment has been timed to coincide with the alignment of the Seviri and Calypso satellites, which may be able to confirm the accuracy of the technology.
The technology, invented by Fred Prata, of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, has already been successfully tested on Saharan dust clouds and last summer Airbus tested for false alarms using water vapour.
There are fears that it may not be certified in time for the next eruption.
Airlines scramble to protect jets from volcanic ash cloud
Some articles from the time of the 2010 eruption
Volcanic ash crisis cost airlines £2.2 billion27.4.2010 (Telegraph)The Icelandic volcano ash crisis has cost the airlines €2.5 billion ( £2.2 billion),
according to the European Union’s executive body.
Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said the economic impact of the weeklong crisis
had caused losses of estimated at between €1.5-2.5 billion.
The closure of a large chunk of European airspace due to the volcanic eruption
in southern Iceland caused the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights, and
left 10 million passengers stranded.
Mr Kallas has called for a sweeping reform of air traffic control and short-term
relief like lifting bans on night time flights, to help airlines cope with the
He said the European Commission, which he briefed on the problems, was asking
member nations to provide airlines immediate relief with measures such as making
market-rate loans and deferring payments for air traffic control services.
Lifting restrictions on night-time flights meant to maintain quiet in neighbourhoods
around airports would help airlines repatriate stranded passengers and get delayed
freight deliveries to their destinations, he said.
However, Kallas warned EU member states not to grant airlines state aid other
than loans at market rates or guarantees as a way of improving their immediate
cash flow problems.
“This must be granted on the basis of uniform criteria established at the European
level,” he said. “It cannot be used to allow unfair assistance to companies which
is not directly related to the crisis.”
Mr Kallas has called an emergency meeting of EU transport ministers May 4 to
fast-track the wholesale reform of Europe’s fragmented air traffic system.
“Europe needs a single regulator for a single European sky,” he said, adding
that the first elements of the so-called Single European Sky could be in place
by the end of 2010.
Unified airspace would also put the skies under one regulatory body instead of
leaving decisions to dozens of individual countries – one of the key sources of
confusion in the volcanic ash crisis.