18 May 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

SATAVIA reports results from 10-month contrail management trial involving 12 airlines

SATAVIA has claimed significant reductions in climate-warming contrails from a range of commercial jet types during a 10-month test programme conducted last year on 65 flights operated by 12 airlines. The UK-based company said route optimisation developed using its DECISIONX contrail software had collectively avoided over 2,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), or an average of more than 40 tonnes per flight, with minimal impact on aircraft fuel consumption or flight distances. Contrails are formed in specific meteorological conditions which cause vapour to freeze around soot particles expelled from aircraft engines, creating cloudy canopies of ice crystals which can trap heat in the air and worsen aviation’s climate warming effects. SATAVIA’s software uses extensive atmospheric modelling data to help flight planners identify and avoid conditions in which contrails can form. Among the airlines participating in the tests were Icelandair, Kenya Airways, Condor and SunExpress, performing a mix of short, medium and long haul flights.

Aircraft contrails can either cool or warm the atmosphere by day, depending on conditions, while all contrails created at night cause warming. SATAVIA’s CEO, Dr Adam Durant, said identifying and avoiding conditions which enable formation of the most warming contrails provided a proactive and immediate mitigation strategy to help manage the non-CO2 climate impacts of aviation.

“We’re not reducing emissions, we’re avoiding the warming caused by the clouds aircraft can make,” he said, emphasising that contrail management was not a carbon offsetting measure. “We’re addressing what is known as a short-lived climate forcer, calculating the energy we’ve avoided and converting that to a CO2-equivalent mitigation.”

The  SATAVIA test programme, financially backed by the UK and European space agencies, enabled the company and the participating airlines to assess the contrail avoidance software in a wide range of routine operating environments. 

The company said the initial test results also highlighted a significant opportunity for a new voluntary carbon market segment as the aviation industry continued to seek ways to address its environmental impacts.

Additionally, said SATAVIA, the tests progressed its plans to secure endorsement from Gold Standard, the Swiss-based climate accreditation platform, ahead of an EU requirement from next year that airlines must monitor, report and verify their non-CO2 impacts as part of the European Union Emission Trading System (EU ETS).

Achieving accreditation from Gold Standard is a high priority for SATAVIA, which wants its contrail avoidance technology externally validated, and non-CO2 mitigation credits recognised and introduced for the aviation sector.

Having last year received concept approval from Gold Standard, SATAVIA is now undergoing design certification of its patented methodology, which it says will provide commercial incentives for airlines to voluntarily reduce their contrails before the practice is mandated.

“This new voluntary carbon market will be worth billions of dollars globally, creating a bottom-line rationale for operators to cut their non-CO2 climate footprint,” explained Durant. “As a low-cost, easy-to-implement software solution, contrail management can help move aviation towards climate-neutral operation on near-term timescales.

“We’ve shown that aircraft operators can use DECISIONX to minimise the warming caused by aircraft contrails and reduce their climate footprint with minimal impact on day-to-day operations,” he said. “We also invested in extensive scientific validation to support post-flight verification of avoided climate impact.”

SATAVIA has previously simulated tests of its software with Dubai-based Emirates, the world’s largest operator of long-haul flights, followed by in-service assessments with the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, with which the company has an extensive partnership.   

The latest test programme was performed last year with 12 participating airlines including Icelandair, Kenya Airways, Lufthansa Group’s Condor and SunExpress, a joint venture between Lufthansa Group and Turkish Airlines.

The study included both day and night flights operated by aircraft types ranging from Embraer regional jets to narrowbody and widebody Airbus and Boeing equipment.

The flights assessed in the programme were divided between short-haul services of less than three hours, medium-haul flights of three to six hours, and journeys of more than six hours. They included both passenger and freight flights, all of which were powered by conventional jet fuels.

As well as further evaluating SATAVIA’s contrail-avoidance technology, which directs aircraft to climb above or descend below contrail-forming conditions, the latest study also identified operational challenges occurring in daily flight operations.

“The results from the trials with DECISIONX, which uses Earth Observation and other meteorological data to power and validate atmospheric modelling, demonstrate how fundamental the use of space is to this global ambition,” said Dr Craig Brown, Director of Investment at the UK Space Agency, which co-funded the 12-airline study. “SATAVIA’s technology could make a significant impact on the voluntary carbon market, boosting opportunities for aviation sector investment in the UK while supporting major industry initiatives against climate change.”

Arnaud Runge, technical officer for the European Space Agency, said his organisation’s co-funding of the programme had helped SATAVIA to engage a larger group of airlines, generating a greater range of data and highlighting how space technologies could assist the air transport industry in progressing its environmental agenda.

Sophia Dunning, Condor’s senior manager for sustainability, said contrail management “offers potential for a much more conscious approach to the impact of daily flight operations on the environment and the climate.

“We are very excited about future developments of the technology in this area.”

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