This study explores performance requirements for the retrieval of the atmospheric aerosol optical depth (AOD) by airborne optical remote sensing instruments. Independent of any retrieval techniques, the calculated AOD retrieval requirements are compared with the expected performance parameters of the upcoming hyperspectral sensor APEX at the reference wavelength of 550nm. The AOD accuracy requirements are defined to be capable of resolving transmittance differences of 0.01 to 0.04 according to the demands of atmospheric corrections for remote sensing applications. For the purposes of this analysis, the signal at the sensor level is simulated by radiation transfer equations. The resulting radiances are translated into the AOD retrieval sensitivity (Δτ aer λ ) and compared to the available measuring sensitivity of the sensor (NE ΔLsensor λ ). This is done for multiple signal-to-noise ratios (SNR) and surface reflectance values. It is shown that an SNR of 100 is adequate for AOD retrieval at 550nm under typical remote sensing conditions and a surface reflectance of 10% or less. Such dark surfaces require the lowest SNR values and therefore offer the best sensitivity for measuring AOD. Brighter surfaces with up to 30% reflectance require an SNR of around 300. It is shown that AOD retrieval for targets above 50% surface reflectance is more problematic with the current sensor performance as it may require an SNR larger than 1000. In general, feasibility is proven for the analyzed cases under simulated conditions.