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United to become first airline to fly a aircraft full of passengers using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel

United will today operate what it says an ‘unprecedented’ flight ‘that will serve as a turning point in the industry’s effort to combat climate change: for the first time in aviation history, a commercial carrier will fly an aircraft full of passengers using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)’.

SAF is an alternative fuel made with non-petroleum feedstocks. United says that it is the world leader in the usage and support for the development of SAF, already having agreements to purchase nearly twice as much SAF as the known agreements of all other global airlines combined. SAF has the potential to deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel but with a fraction of its carbon footprint, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the country’s vast feedstock resources are enough to meet the projected fuel demand of the entire US aviation industry.

The demonstration flight will take place between Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport. The flight will be operated by a brand-new Boeing B737MAX-8 and use 500 gallons of SAF in one engine and the same amount of conventional jet fuel in the other engine to further prove there are no operational differences between the two and to set the stage for more scalable uses of SAF by all airlines in the future. Presently, airlines are only permitted to use a maximum of 50% SAF on board. The SAF used on today’s United flight is drop-in ready and compatible with existing aircraft fleets.

United is operating this unprecedented flight in partnership with Boeing, CFM International, Virent – a subsidiary of Marathon – whose technology enables 100% drop-in SAF, and World Energy – the world’s first and North America’s only commercial SAF producer. United CEO, Scott Kirby will be onboard this flight today. He will be joined by executives from each of those companies on today’s flight along with other business leaders, government officials, NGOs and members of the media.

Kirby said:

United continues to lead from the front when it comes to climate change action. Today’s SAF flight is not only a significant milestone for efforts to decarbonize our industry, but when combined with the surge in commitments to produce and purchase alternative fuels, we’re demonstrating the scalable and impactful way companies can join together and play a role in addressing the biggest challenge of our lifetimes.

Ihssane Mounir, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for The Boeing Company, said:

Boeing is proud to support United on this historic event as we work together to make aviation more sustainable. As an industry, we are committed to addressing climate change, and sustainable aviation fuels are the most measurable solution to reduce aviation carbon emissions in the coming decades. No one entity can decarbonize aviation alone and it will require partnerships like this to ensure aviation is safe and sustainable for future generations.

Gaël Méheust, President & CEO of CFM International, said:

We are honored to be part of this landmark event. Drop-in SAF is something our industry can adopt now to begin making inroads on our commitment to be net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Along with our parent companies, GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines, we applaud United for taking this bold initiative and look forward to even greater cooperation in the future.

Dave Kettner, President and General Counsel of Virent, said:

We’re excited to partner with this group of innovative companies that are leading the way in sustainable aviation. Virent’s proprietary technology demonstrates that SAF can be 100% renewable and 100% compatible with our current aviation fleet and infrastructure. We are proud to be playing a role in this advancement toward sustainable aviation fuels.

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Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy, said:

When we fly, we connect, and our demand for the connections aviation makes possible are only going to grow. But we need to develop affordable, high energy density, low-carbon liquid fuels at scale everywhere to allow those connections to be made sustainably. The pioneering work is the hardest work, and United has been with us from the very start. The flight path ahead will require tremendous teamwork. We are fortunate to have partners like United to do that work and are thrilled to be a part of this important milestone today.

In addition to operating a aircraft full of passengers using 100% SAF, United announced the second round of corporate participants in the airline’s Eco-Skies Alliance program to collectively contribute towards the purchase of SAF.

Launched in April 2021, the program has now collectively contributed toward the purchase of more than 7 million gallons of SAF this year alone. With its nearly 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions on a lifecycle basis compared to conventional jet fuel, this is enough SAF to eliminate approximately 66,000 metric tons of GHG emissions, or enough to fly passengers more than 460 million miles. Including today’s newly announced participants, the program has nearly 30 participants including companies like DHL Global Forwarding, HP Inc. and Nike.

The new participants include:

  • American Family Insurance
  • Biogen
  • Bolloré Logistics
  • CWT
  • Maersk
  • Meta
  • Microsoft
  • Palo Alto Networks
  • Salesforce
  • Visa
  • Yusen Logistics
  • Zurich North America

Lately, United has heavily been investing in zero emissions aircraft too. In June 2021, as part of its agreement with Boom Supersonic, United announced plans to purchase 15 of Boom’s supersonic “Overture” airliners (with an option for 35 more). Slated to carry passengers in 2029, the net-zero aircraft plans to fly on 100% SAF. Then, in July 2021, United Aviate Ventures (UAV) announced that along with Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Mesa Airlines, it has invested in electric aircraft startup Heart Aerospace. Heart Aerospace is developing the ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft that has the potential to fly customers with zero emissions when powered by renewable electricity. These are 2 of the many investments United has made to achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral airline by 2050.

Recently, Emirates announced that it will operate a Boeing B777 test flight with 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

Meanwhile, United recently announced that its new flight between Washington DC and Amman, Jordan is now on sale.

Featured image by United

What do you think of United operating a flight with 100+ passengers using SAF? Let me know in the comments section below.

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