Lufthansa To Turn An A350 Into A Climate Research Plane

Lufthansa is set to convert one of its Airbus A350-900 aircraft into a climate research plane. While operating flights worldwide, D-AIXJ will begin to collect atmospheric data that Lufthansa can feed to several research institutes.

A Lufthansa Airbus A350 being marshalled in Malta
Lufthansa is turning one of its Airbus A350 aircraft into a flying laboratory. Photo: Lufthansa

For many years, aviation has played a vital role in atmospheric research and forecasting the weather. After all, at a minimum, most aircraft are recording airspeed, temperature, and pressure. Interestingly, when aircraft around the world were grounded due to travel restrictions, weather forecasts became less accurate due to the lack of these readings. However, now Lufthansa is modifying an aircraft to take more measurements than usual.

A flying research lab

Today Lufthansa revealed that it would turn one of its Airbus A350-900 aircraft into a data collection tool to fly worldwide. The aircraft, D-AIXJ, has undergone modification for this task at Lufthansa Technik in Malta.

Lufthansa has installed what it has called a CARIBIC measurement laboratory in the belly of this aircraft. The acronym stands for Civil Aircraft for the Regular Investigation of the atmosphere Based on an Instrument Container. This isn’t the first time that a Lufthansa plane has carrier the CARIBIC system. Previously the airline installed it on an A340-600.

The modifications made to the aircraft's belly are shown
The plane has been modified to collect atmospheric data while flying between 9-12 km. Photo: Lufthansa

The conversion has been in the planning stage for the past four years. Coincidentally, now is the perfect time to complete the modifications. Given that a large portion of the Lufthansa fleet is grounded, the airline won’t miss one of its A350s being out of action for the work to take place.

So far, the airline has installed the air intake system into the aircraft’s belly. It then tested inserting the CARIBIC system before calibrating it. Weighing in at 1.6 tonnes, it is unclear whether the plane will carry the heavy system around before the three-stage modification program is complete.

What data will the plane collect?

The modifications will allow the aircraft to collect around 100 different parameters, from trace gasses to aerosol and cloud parameters. These data sets will be much more accurate than those collected by earth and satellite observation stations, as the plane will be right in the collection space rather than observing from afar.

A photo of Lufthansa A350 D-AIXJ
Around 100 variables will be recorded and relayed to research facilities on the ground. Photo: Lufthansa

According to Lufthansa, the data being collected by D-AIXJ will be used to assess the performance of current atmospheric and climate models. This, in turn, will allow scientific agencies to refine their models of the future.

About D-AIXJ

The aircraft selected for the modification was D-AIXJ. According to data from, the plane is around three years old, having been delivered on May 30th, 2018. Data from shows that the aircraft departed to Malta for the modification work on March 11th. It then returned to Munich on March 30th. It has since re-entered commercial service.

The plane’s modification in Malta is just one of three stages to turn the vehicle into a valuable scientific instrument. Once all the aircraft work is completed, the plane, named Erfurt, is expected to begin collecting data by the end of the year.

The CARIBIC System installed on the A340-600
A Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 previously carried a CARIBIC system. Photo: Lufthansa

Commenting on the conversion, Annette Mann, Head of Corporate Responsibility at the Lufthansa Group, stated,

“The conversion of our A350-900 ‘D-AIXJ’ into a climate research aircraft is something very special for us… we can continue to support climate and atmospheric research in its important task on long-haul routes… particularly important climate relevant parameters are collected just on that altitude where the atmospheric greenhouse effects is largely generated.”

What do you make of Lufthansa’s latest venture into climate research? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!