Could Rerouting Aircraft Avoid Some Atmospheric Damage?

A European research project shows that while aircraft operating costs would rise slightly, atmospheric damage could decline.

air traffic rerouting
Research suggests rerouting transatlantic flights to follow more climate-friendly paths could reduce environmental damage.Aviation Benefits Org

A group of European scientists says it discovered that not all parts of the atmosphere surrounding the planet react to aircraft emissions in exactly the same way. The scientists believe rerouting aircraft to avoid the more sensitive areas of the atmosphere could reduce the impact of aircraft on greenhouse gases.

Volker Grewe of the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft in Raumfahrt, Germany, and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands said, “Rerouting transatlantic flights to follow the most climate-friendly path could damage the climate 10 percent less for an increase in costs of just 1 percent.”

Another important aspect of this new rerouting approach is that it could be implemented using the worldwide fleet of aircraft currently flying, without the need for new engine technology.

Volker and his colleagues from Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Norway modeled routings for 800 daily flights across the Atlantic under five typical winter weather patterns and three typical summer patterns. The team combined their chemistry-climate model with an air traffic simulator, choosing 85 variations for each flight path — 17 horizontal and five vertical. Then they picked the most "eco-efficient," which is the path with the best ratio of climate-impact reduction to cost increase.

For this kind of effort to be successful, however, atmospheric scientists and air traffic managers around the world will need to work together closely, especially since implementing the proposed solution would add extra flight time and fuel burn to many flights.