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Climate change and the future of air travel

form government policies, not just in the UK but throughout the EU and the rest of the world so that decision makers can take all the environmental issues into account and do the right thing."

Dr Noland also believes that the work has direct relevance to aircraft manufacturers. He says, "There is little more that aircraft designers can do to increase engine fuel efficiency at high altitude, but designing new aircraft that can be as fuel efficient flying at 20,000 feet, as today's aircraft are at 35,000 feet, would help eliminate contrails."

A key consideration in this study is the proliferation of short-haul flights. These are currently thought to be more environmentally disruptive than long-haul flights because of the high quantity of fuel needed for take-off and landing. In a short haul, this is not balanced by a long, fuel-efficient cruise. However, contrail effects are not taken into account in current environmental risk assessments of air travel. The team are investigating whether the picture would change if they were. The reason is that short-haul flights seldom reach the altitude where contrails form and this might make them overall more environmentally friendly than high-flying long-haul flights.

As well as the seasonal variation in atmospheric conditions, which the team estimated would require a general ceiling on flight altitudes (summer: 31,000 feet, winter: 24,000 feet), they also found significant day to day variations, so any contrail reduction strategy would work better if it were reactive on a daily basis. They also found days when the atmospheric conditions made it almost impossible to avoid contrail formation.

Aircraft already measure the exterior air conditions, so a simple piece of software, programmed with the details of the jet exhaust temperature and humidity could immediately alert a pilot to when his aircraft is creating a contrail. Although lower flying aircraft expend more fuel to push themselv
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Contact: Natasha Richardson
44-1-794-444-404
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
25-Jan-2005


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