American Airlines: Using AI and data to reduce contrail formation by 54%
Yesterday, American Airlines announced findings from a trailblazing study on contrail avoidance, producing “first proof point that commercial flights can verifiably avoid contrails and thereby reduce their climate impact.”
The airline supported a study led by Google Research and Breakthrough Energy on identifying the atmospheric zones most likely to create contrails. Subsequently, the team tested whether pilots could avoid making contrails in flight when supplied with data regarding the location of these zones.
According to the 2022 IPCC report, the clouds created by contrails accounts for an estimated 35 per cent of aviation’s global warming impact, “over half the impact of the world’s jet fuel.” It is therefore imperative, as the industry addresses its environmental impact, that contrails are kept at the forefront of research.
Marc Shapiro, Director of Breakthrough Energy Contrails explained:
“Avoiding contrails might be one of the best ways to limit aviation’s climate impact, and now we have a clear demonstration that it’s possible to do so. This study is a great example of what happens when creative, ambitious organizations work together to better understand and solve a tough problem, and we’re grateful for American’s and Google’s partnership.”
The study gathered data on satellite imagery, weather, and flight paths using AI to produce contrail forecast maps. To test Google’s AI-based predictions, cross-referenced with Breakthrough Energy’s open-source contrail models, American flew 70 flights over six months hoping to see a reduction in contrails.
The results announced yesterday, showed that pilots were able to reduce contrails by 54 per cent. The Google blog post explained that recent studies indicate only a small percentage of flights need to be adjusted to avoid the majority of contrail warming. As such, “contrails could be avoided at scale for around $5-25/ton CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) using our existing predictions, making it a cost-effective warming-reduction measure, and further improvements are expected.”
At World Aviation Festival, key leaders of the industry will be gathering to discuss sustainability in aviation book your ticket now to be a part of the discussion.
For more on sustainability in aviation see:
- Carbon capture, direct air capture, and SAF
- Is Ecojet “the biggest revolution in the aviation industry since the invention of the jet engine?”
- The importance of Etihad and SATAVIA’s contrail management partnership