In an effort to lessen aviation’s environmental impact, American Airlines released the findings of a groundbreaking study on contrail avoidance. The study’s findings were supported by satellite images.
When an aeroplane passes over moist air layers, contrails develop. Depending on the circumstances, they might last for a few minutes or several hours as cirrus clouds. During the day, these extra clouds can bounce sunlight back into space, but at night, some contrails can trap heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The study, led by Google Research and Breakthrough Energy and with support from American, tested whether it is possible to identify atmospheric zones that are likely to create contrails. The team then determined whether pilots could avoid making contrails in flight when supplied with data regarding the location of these zones.
Google Research and Breakthrough Energy created contrail forecast maps using artificial intelligence (AI) after gathering massive data sets, including satellite photography, weather, and aircraft path data. Over the course of six months, a small group of American pilots completed 70 flights while making minor adjustments to routes that were expected to produce contrails based on AI-based projections.
Google Research examined satellite images after the test flights and discovered that flights where pilots utilized the AI predictions to prevent forming a contrail reduced contrail formation by 54%, as assessed by distance, in comparison to flights where pilots did not use the predictions. A commercial flight can verifiably avoid producing a contrail, as demonstrated by this first proof point, even though it only applies to a tiny number of flights. Additional research is necessary to determine if this success can be replicated and scaled.
American is attempting to increase the sustainability of its operations by utilising new technology, more fuel-efficient planes, and low-carbon fuel more frequently. The airline has established a number of ambitious intermediate goals in order to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.