Delta and MIT team up to prevent persistent contrails


Delta is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to research “persistent” contrail prevention.

Persistent contrails make up about 10% of all contrails and create long-standing clouds that trap heat, warming the earth. Past trials show that about 80% of persistent contrails could be avoided through flight altitude adjustments with minimal additional fuel burn. That means contrail avoidance could be among the most immediate and cost-effective measures for reducing aviation’s climate footprint.

Pam Fletcher, Delta’s chief sustainability officer, said: “While the journey to decarbonising aviation is uncharted, we know it will take short-, medium- and long-term solutions to reach our net zero goal. 

“That’s why this work is both exciting and critical – it has the potential to make a major impact on our environmental footprint within just a few years. By making our data and solutions available publicly, we’re encouraging creators, innovators and industry cohorts everywhere to join in our efforts to make fast, lasting progress for our planet,” Fletcher explained.

The study will use an MIT-created algorithm that predicts altitudes and locations where contrails are likely to form. The collaboration will study the causes, assess the environmental impact and test possible solutions for persistent contrails.

The technology planned as part of the study is being created under an open-source license, allowing others to join in advancing work on this vital solution for aviation.

Steven Barrett, director of MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, said: “Much of the focus on climate within the aviation field is understandably on carbon dioxide, but contrail avoidance has the potential to greatly reduce the environmental impact of air travel quickly and at low cost.”

Barrett thinks the collaboration with Delta will help MIT better understand, predict, and avoid persistent contrails. “Working with airline partners gives us the needed access to flights and operational expertise to conduct successful flight trials.”