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16 November, 2021 - 09:27 By Tony Quested

SATAVIA and Etihad sign historic green aviation alliance

Sustainability aviation thought leaders SATAVIA in Cambridge and Etihad Aiways in Abu Dhabi are forming a partnership to reduce the airline’s non-CO2 footprint via advanced flight planning optimisation. 

The collaboration, agreed at the Dubai Air Show, will help to eliminate the creation of aircraft-generated clouds that account for up to 60 per cent of aviation’s total climate impact.

SATAVIA’s DECISIONX capability enables eco-conscious operators to prevent condensation trails (contrails), which cause a net climate warming effect almost double that of direct engine emissions.

By exploring the potential for integrating SATAVIA’s flight plan contrail optimisation into the airline’s flight planning systems, Etihad hopes to implement navigational contrail prevention in day-to-day flight operations.

Contrails generate climate impact by trapping heat in the atmosphere, directing a proportion back down towards the surface. Contrail formation and lifetime depend on constantly changing atmospheric parameters such as temperature, pressure, and humidity. 

Consequently, contrail forecasting and navigational avoidance requires highly accurate atmospheric analysis, now made possible by SATAVIA’s DECISIONX platform.

SATAVIA CEO, Dr Adam Durant, said: “DECISIONX digitises the atmosphere from surface to space generating uniquely actionable intelligence for a suite of aerospace applications.

“Our contrail prevention platform, DECISIONX:NETZERO, enables eco-conscious operators to implement small altitude and routing changes for contrail avoidance, supporting sustainable travel while also quantifying and offsetting achieved climate benefit.”

SATAVIA’s partnership with Etihad plans to build on the recent success of the Etihad-operated EY20 Sustainable Flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi, which brought together a suite of innovations – including SATAVIA’s technology – to significantly reduce overall climate impact.

The SATAVIA and Etihad flight dispatch teams collaborated closely during the phase of active flight planning and generated a series of optimised flight plans to prevent contrail formation while minimising any additional fuel burn.

The effort involved full collaboration across flight and airport operations, enabling the aircraft to fly above contrail forming atmospheric regions. 

Close collaboration also took place between air navigation service providers NATS and EUROCONTROL, enabling flight level changes for contrail prevention.

Based on analysis of the original flight plan, EY20 contrail prevention activity prevented a net ~64 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) forcing with a marginal fuel burn penalty of 0.1 tonnes, generating less than 500 kgs additional CO2 emissions.

“EY20 was a genuine step forward not just for Etihad’s Net Zero objectives, but for commercially sustainable green aviation more widely,” said Mohammad Al Bulooki, chief operating officer, Etihad Aviation Group. 

“We demonstrated the possibility of incorporating contrail prevention alongside a range of pre-flight, in-flight, and post- flight activities, cutting our climate impact while maintaining day-to-day commercial activity.”

SATAVIA’s new Etihad collaboration comes at a turning point for the aviation industry, which is seeking routes to decarbonisation via a host of green aviation initiatives focused on sustainable aviation fuels, airframe design and novel propulsion systems. 

Against this backdrop, contrail prevention offers a considerably shorter timeframe for integration into day-to-day commercial aviation.

“New fuels, engines and airframes are likely to take years or decades to develop,” said Al Bulooki, “but contrail prevention can be undertaken at considerably shorter timescales. 

“The airline is investing time, effort and resources into exploring opportunities today, understanding their limitations and constraints, and working to overcome them.

“That has been the purpose of the Greenliner Programme. What Etihad and SATAVIA achieved on EY20 was impressive; the challenge now will be exploring how this could be achieved dynamically across all our flights where the potential for the creation of harmful contrails is present.”

Not every flight generates contrails: recent research suggests that 80 per cent of contrail climate impact is generated by around two per cent of flights. The challenge is to identify in advance which flights may require flight plan adjustment. 

Successful navigational avoidance also requires the active involvement of air navigation service providers (ANSPs), as demonstrated by the EY20 flight.

Dr Durant said: “Our unique capacity to forecast contrail risk on a flight-by-flight basis means we can now work towards optimising Etihad flight planning for greener aviation, developing collaborations with key stakeholders like ANSPs, OEMs and flight planning software providers to enable full integration into day-to-day operations. 

“We also plan to quantify climate benefit for trading as carbon equivalent offset credits – a market worth at least $9 billion globally, at a conservative estimate. 

“In short, contrail prevention is a fairly straightforward digital technology solution with incredible potential to move the sector towards Net Zero on relatively short timescales.” 

Rooted in scientific and technological acumen and working with leading players ranging from Microsoft to Airbus, SATAVIA embodies an entrepreneurial mindset with the ambition to transform the relationship between aviation and the environment.

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