Contrail avoidance

Exploring techniques for minimising contrail formation

Following a study by Imperial College London, NATS R&D and Sustainable Operations teams have teamed up with Imperial and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) to investigate the link between where aircraft fly and contrail formation in the airspace we manage.

The climate change impact of aviation is usually focused on CO2 emissions. However, we now have a better understanding of the impact of non-CO2 factors, such as contrails.

Since 2020, the team has begun to discover the patterns between contrail formation and aviation’s operations over the Atlantic Ocean.

By predicting where supersaturated air is going to form over the Atlantic, and with the benefit of Oceanic flight data, the study is investigating the possibility of avoiding these areas, either by airlines flight planning around them or by managing air traffic flows tactically to minimise contrail formation.

We hope to conduct a contrail avoidance trial over the eastern half of the north Atlantic, where NATS provides the ATC service.

We could use real-time observed data and forecasts to investigate tactical requests to avoid Ice Super Saturated Regions (ISSRs), where contrails are expected to form. We’d also be able to trial pre-tactical decisions to avoid ISSRs in flight plans by the airline operator, based on ISSR forecasts.

Knowledge sharing and research collaborations with universities and industry partners are fundamental to achieving the industry’s path to net zero by 2050.

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