Elbit Gets European Grant for Volcanic Ash-detection System

Tests show combination of special sensor and high-tech cameras could allow planes to detect significant amounts of ash up to 100km away.

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The Northern Lights above the ash plume of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano on the evening April 22, 2010.
The Northern Lights above the ash plume of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano on the evening April 22, 2010.Credit: Reuters

Israel's Elbit Systems has won a European R&D grant for an endeavor to minimize flight disruptions caused by volcanic eruptions, Aviation Week reported this month.

The company plans to integrate an ash-detection sensor into its latest enhanced-vision system with help from the Eurostars program, a joint initiative of EUREKA and the European Commission.

The volcanic ash-imaging sensor was developed by Norway’s Nicarnica Aviation. The Norwegian Research Council and Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist both support the program.

According to Aviation Week, silicate ash can threaten an airplane on multiple levels. It abrades windscreens and "can melt within the core of an engine, coating turbine blades and vanes and causing a surge, loss of thrust or flameout."

Therefore, volcanic eruptions cause mass cancellations of flights, as the ash cloud from the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano did in 2010.

Nicarnica is developing the Avoid system, short for Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector. The system combines filtering techniques with a pair of imaging infrared cameras to detect volcanic ash ahead of the aircraft, according to Aviation Week.

The aviation industry website reported that an Airbus A340-300 fitted with a prototype Avoid sensor was able to detect a simulated ash cloud at a distance of 50 kilometers in tests conducted in late 2013. The relatively small size of the cloud compared to the real thing meant, according to Airbus, that it would be feasible to detect a significant ash loading at 100 kilometers while cruising above 30,000 feet.

The report explained that enhanced vision systems are installed on business jets to help pilots land in reduced visibility, but that commercial aircraft operators have yet to embrace the technology.

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