An Australian collaboration is working to commercialise the world's first detector to warn pilots of volcanic ash clouds in their flight paths.
In the past 30 years, more than 90 jet aircraft have encountered ash clouds emitted from erupting volcanoes. Ash clouds are almost invisible to radar.
Silicon compounds within these clouds can cause costly damage to aircraft, ranging from abrasion of windows and composite surfaces to engine destruction. Engine failure associated with ash cloud encounters is a major safety hazard.
The collaboration, between Australia's federal science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Integrated Avionic Systems, was announced last Friday by the Hon. Rob Hulls MP, Victorian Minister for Manufacturing Industry, at the Australian International Air Show at Avalon.
CSIRO has constructed a prototype volcanic ash detector and has world-wide patents for the technologies developed. The instrument may also be suitable for detection of clear air turbulence and hazards such as low-level wind shear as well as for terrain avoidance.
CSIRO estimates that the ash detector sales could be worth $50 million per year.
"The Australian aviation industry is especially concerned about flights over the numerous active volcanoes in Japan, South-East Asia and New Zealand," says former Chief Executive of CSIRO Dr Colin Adam.
"The detector will give pilots five to ten minutes to take evasive action if an ash cloud appears in their flight path," he says.
"There are also potential savings to the aerospace industry, as reliable detection of ash clouds will reduce flight detours."
The project will be known as Airborne Hazard Detection Technologies. It will design, certify and manufacture volcanic ash detectors in Australia, and establish new technologies using infrared techniques.
The ash detector can distinguish between volcanic clouds and normal water and ice clouds. Ash clouds, virtually invisible to radar, may occur thousands of kilometres from an eruption.
Materials provided by CSIRO Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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