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Microsoft teams up with UK startup to minimise impact of climate change by aviation industry

Cambridge-based startup Satavia is tapping into the Microsoft Azure public cloud platform to help aviation industry minimise the impact its activities have on the environment

Microsoft has revealed details of how its Azure public cloud platform is supporting a Cambridge-based startup to achieve its goal of reducing the aviation industry’s impact on the environment.

The company, Satavia, has developed an artificial intelligence-based platform called DecisionX, which enables airline operators to create flight paths that are optimised to minimise the contrail clouds generated by an aircraft in-flight.

These clouds are typically produced by aircraft once they start cruising above 26,000 feet. They are known to contribute to global warming by trapping heated air in the Earth’s atmosphere – so much so that estimates suggest contrails account for around 60% of the aviation industry’s total climate impact.

Satavia’s platform uses weather prediction modelling within the Microsoft Azure cloud to create a high-resolution replica of the Earth’s atmosphere. This, in turn, will enable users to pinpoint where atmospheric changes in the amounts heat, sunshine, moisture, pressure and temperature will occur, which all have influence over how and where contrails will form.

It has also migrated the high-performance computing (HPC) infrastructure underpinning its operations from an on-premise datacentre to the Azure cloud too.

Satavia founder and CEO Adam Durant said the organisation turned to Azure to host its prediction modelling workloads for its scaling capabilities.

“Our model performs around 100 algorithmic computations over four billion model cells every 30 seconds for 26 meteorological parameters, generating one quadrillion  computations per simulation day – that’s how we define ‘hyperscale’,” he said in a Microsoft blog post detailing the project. “We’re delighted to have worked with Microsoft on this test of our ability to scale, demonstrating the incredible scalability and ultra-high-performance provided by Microsoft Azure.”

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The company also cited Microsoft’s stance on environmental issues as being another factor in its decision to go with its public cloud platform. As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the software giant set out plans in January 2020 to become a carbon-negative company by 2030.

“Microsoft’s commitments to powering their datacentres with renewable energy and to become carbon negative by 2030 resonate strongly with Satavia’s vision to make aviation more sustainable,” continued Durant.

“We want to show that we can implement ultra-high-impact applications – like eliminating 60% of aviation’s climate impact with a single hyperscale platform solution – while simultaneously going carbon neutral or even carbon negative.”

Michael Wignall, Azure business lead at Microsoft UK, said its technology tie-up with Satavia is a show of its commitment to doing what it can as a company to prevent climate change.

“Microsoft is committed to tackling climate change across the world; not only through our own actions but by making our tools available to help others reduce human-led impact on the planet,” said Wignall.

“By modelling the Earth’s atmosphere, Satavia is helping the aviation sector understand more about its environmental impact. The Azure cloud platform is designed to handle the huge amounts of data that creates, ensuring that information can be analysed quickly and easily, while ensuring complete security.”

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