New Device on Airplanes Detects Volcanic Ash Cloud


Researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research have developed a device with which airline pilots can detect ash clouds and fly around them. Volcanic ash is a great danger to jet planes. Particles get caught in the engines, turn hard and stop them.

Volcanic eruptions can stop air traffic over a whole continent. When Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull erupted in May 2010 it sent volcanic ash clouds across most of Europe. Airspace in northern, central and western Europe was closed and over 100,000 flights were cancelled. The incident cost airlines almost $2 billion.



With the new device installed airline pilots will be able to see ash clouds up to 200 km ahead of them. The system uses infrared cameras that are on the wings of the plane. It can also measure how dense the clouds are and spot layers of clean air between them. Together with weather data a detailed 3D map of the surrounding airspace can be created. Pilots can monitor how ash clouds will spread and adjust their course accordingly. Up to now, scientists have only been able to see the ash clouds but not make out how dense they are.



The new device has already been tested in an Airbus flying around Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily. British budget airlines Easyjet will be the first to use the new ash cloud detection system. If it works properly other airlines will be soon to follow.


Related Topics


  • accordingly = for that reason
  • adjust = change
  • ahead = in front of
  • air traffic = all the airplanes that fly over a region
  • airspace = the sky above a certain area
  • ash = soft grey powder that comes from volcanoes
  • billion = a thousand million
  • budget airlines = airline company that sells cheap tickets; you have to pay for extra things like food , luggage etc..
  • cancel = call off, stop
  • data = information
  • dense = thick
  • detect = see, identify, find out
  • develop = make something new
  • device = small machine
  • engine = motor of a plane
  • eruption = outbreak, explosion
  • incident = event
  • infrared = long-wave light
  • layer = level
  • make out = see
  • map = a drawing or picture of an area
  • measure = to find out how big something is
  • Norwegian = from Norway
  • particle = very small bit of something
  • properly = as it should
  • researcher = a person who studies a subject and discovers new facts about it
  • spot = see
  • spread = move, grow
  • surrounding = nearby, around something