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Pathways to Sustainable Aviation: Aligning Flight Plans with Climate Goals

We are glad to share with RefMap project audience our latest research, presenting a comprehensive analysis of climate-friendly flight planning to mitigate the aviation sector's climate impact, which is now available as a pre-print on Research Square. This study, which is currently under review by the Journal of Nature Communications Earth and Environment, provides aviation policymakers with clearer insights into the climate benefits that can be achieved through flight planning. The study is made by Abolfazl Simorgh and Manuel Soler from our partner, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.


This paper presents a comprehensive analysis exploring the potential of climate-friendly flight planning as an operational measure to mitigate the aviation sector’s climate impact. The analysis considers the effects induced by CO2 emissions and the most relevant non-CO2 forcing agents, including NOx emissions and contrail-cirrus. We demonstrate that the effectiveness of flight planning in mitigating climate impact is closely tied to daily meteorological conditions, serving as an important indicator. Therefore, smart adoption of climate-optimal trajectories, i.e., rerouting only under conditions where large climate benefits are achievable, effectively mitigates climate impact while maintaining operational feasibility through minimal changes to standard operations. Our analysis for the year 2022 indicates highly variable mitigation potential across different days, with a clear trade-off w.r.t. the operating cost. Seasonal variation in potential climate benefits is considerable, with summer showing the lowest potential and autumn the highest, linked to the likelihood of contrail formation. The findings suggest that flight planning is most effective at mitigating the climate impact of contrails, whereas reducing other non-CO2 impacts, including NOx-induced effects, tends to be costlier and necessitates extensive rerouting. Our work offers aviation policymakers a clearer understanding of the potential climate benefits achievable through flight planning and its associated implications.


We hope this study will serve as valuable guidance for fostering more sustainable aviation practices.


For further details, you can stay updated by following our social media and checking the news section of the project’s website.

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