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Aircraft contrails, those streaks often trailing behind jets in the sky, are now under increased scrutiny due to their potential link to climate change. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling for further investigation into the environmental impact of contrails, while the European Union (EU) is taking proactive steps towards tighter regulations.

Contrails, formed when aircraft fly through layers of humidity, have long been observed as visible signs of air travel. However, recent research suggests they could contribute to global warming by interfering with solar radiation and heat emission from the Earth’s surface. This concern has prompted the EU to pass new regulations aimed at monitoring and reducing non-CO2 emissions from flights, including contrails, nitrogen oxides, and sulphur.


According to, these regulations will require airlines to measure and report their emissions, with contrails being a significant focus. The move comes amidst mounting evidence linking contrails to climate change, with studies dating back to the late 1990s highlighting their potential impact on the Earth’s atmosphere.


American Airlines, among others, has been actively involved in contrail research. Their recent study on contrail avoidance suggests that these atmospheric phenomena could be responsible for a substantial portion of the aviation industry’s warming impact, surpassing even the emissions from burning fuel.


The findings underscore the urgency for solutions to mitigate the environmental impact of contrails. Proposed measures include using cleaner fuels to reduce non-CO2 pollutants and adjusting flight routes to avoid regions with specific atmospheric conditions conducive to contrail formation.


However, implementing such solutions requires a deeper understanding of contrails’ climate impact. The IATA acknowledges the challenge, highlighting the limited capacity to accurately measure their effects at the airline or individual-flight level.

Despite the complexity of the issue, airlines and regulatory bodies are increasingly recognising the need for action. As aircraft contrails continue to linger in the skies, their role in climate change remains a pressing concern for the aviation industry and environmental policymakers alike.


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