Thursday, December 8, 2011

Plane-mounted cameras detect volcanic ash over Etna

The ash-detecting camera developed by a Norwegian technology start-up and funded by UK budget airline EasyJet lived up to its soot-spotting promise over Mount Etna this week.
The camera was fitted to a tiny plane that circled Sicily's three-kilometre-high volcano as part of the airline's attempts to perfect technology for detecting the warning signs of an impending ash cloud.
EasyJet's test flight managed to successfully detect ash in the air just as the IR camera's inventor, Fred Prata, had predicted - and with low false-positive rates too. The airline wants to introduce the camera into its fleet of 200 commercial planes.
With low-airspeed tests on the light plane at 12,000 feet deemed successful, the tests now move up a gear, with Prata and colleagues planning to mount the ash camera on an Airbus A340 for tests at 600 kilometres per hour at a regular cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.
The camera could prevent future volcanic eruptions having the same kind of devastating economic impact they had in the spring of 2010, when ash spewing from an Icelandic volcano intermittently grounded aviation in Europe.

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