PHOTO: Altering trans-Atlantic flight routes could have a huge impact at a small cost. (Photo via Flickr/Richard Eriksson)
New research from scientists at the U.K.'s University of Reading suggests that airlines operating trans-Atlantic flights could make a significantly positive impact on climate change at a relatively low cost by altering their flight routes to avoid areas where their emissions impact the environment the most.
According to Phys.org, the study results were published earlier this month in the "Environmental Research Letters" journal and show that airlines could potentially reduce their impact on climate change by as much as 10 percent while only taking on a 1 percent increase in operating costs.
"Around 5 percent of man-made climate change is caused by global aviation, and this number is expected to rise. However, this impact could be reduced if flights were routed to avoid regions where emissions have the largest impact," said Delft University of Technology Professor and the study's lead author Volker Grewe via Phys.org.
"Aviation is different from many other sectors since its climate impact is largely caused by non-CO2 effects, such as contrails and ozone formation," Grewe added. "These non-CO2 effects vary regionally, and, by taking advantage of that, a reduction of aviation's climate impact is feasible."
Unfortunately, the study highlights a handful of roadblocks to implementing the less-harmful flight routes.
Grewe points out that "climate-optimal routing is not mature enough to be directly implemented in the real world."
Reasons include the need for strong calculations of climate change functions, consensus on how much additional contrail formation should be permitted, uncertainty regarding the potential impact on air traffic management and the lack of a market-based measure or alternative measure to encourage airlines to reroute.
READ MORE: Hawaiian Airlines Joins Global Climate Change Monitoring Venture
"Climate-friendly routing of aircraft has an exciting potential to decrease the climate impact of aviation, without the need for costly redesign of aircraft, their engines, and airports," said University of Reading Meteorology and Climate Science Professor Keith Shine.
"With more targeted research, it could become a reality in the next 10 years."
The compelling study comes after Hawaiian Airlines became the first U.S. airline to join a global climate change monitoring project. The carrier recently had one of its Airbus A330-200 aircraft outfitted with In-service Aircraft for a Global Observing System (IAGOS) instruments that will record atmospheric air samples from take-off to landing as well as key high-altitude greenhouse gas measurements.