If just two percent of flights changed altitude it could trigger a 59% drop in contrail-linked climate change, according to new research by Imperial College London.
Previous research shows the white streaks planes leave behind in the sky are as damaging to the planet as the CO2 emissions from the aircraft. Through what is called radiative forcing, where an imbalance is created between radiation sent from the sun to Earth, and the heat which heads in the opposite direction from the planet’s surface, the contrails have been shown to be as bad as ‘aviation’s cumulative CO2 emissions’.
This new method could very quickly reduce the overall climate impact of the aviation industry
By altering altitude by 2000 feet in just a small percentage of flights the study found contrail-linked climate change savings of 59% are possible. And when combined with cleaner aircraft engines, this jumps to 90%. The impact is possible from targeting just 2% of flights, as data from Japan’s airspace shows they are responsible for 80% of radiation forcing.
“A really small proportion of flights are responsible for the vast majority of contrail climate impact, meaning we can focus our attention on them,” said Dr Marc Stettler, of Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Solutions like these are good news for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is advancing solutions to achieve carbon-neutral growth in the industry from this year.
The Imperial researchers will now focus on simulations which generate a greater understanding of contrails and the implications and practicalities of pursuing these strategies.