United Airlines has become the first commercial carrier to fly a full passenger flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel. On Wednesday December 1st, United operated a flight that might be a symbolic message from the industry signaling its urgent need to combat climate change.
For the first time in aviation history, a commercial carrier flew an aircraft full of passengers using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (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.
The flight is not only a significant milestone for efforts to decarbonize our industry, but we’re demonstrating the scalable and impactful way companies can join together and play a role in addressing the biggest challenge of our lifetimesScott Kirby, United’s CEO
United supports the development of SAF, an alternative fuel made with non-petroleum feedstocks. It has made 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 U.S. aviation industry.
The demonstration flight took off with more than 100 passengers from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and landed at Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport. The airplane was a new United 737 MAX 8 and used 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. Currently, airlines are only permitted to use a maximum of 50% SAF on board. The SAF used on the flight is drop-in ready and compatible with existing aircraft fleets.
We are committed to addressing climate change, and sustainable aviation fuels are the most measurable solution to reduce aviation carbon emissions in the coming decadesIhssane Mounir, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Boeing
United’s Eco-Skies Alliance program was launched in April 2021 and now has 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.
No one entity can decarbonize aviation alone and it will require partnerships like this to ensure aviation is safe and sustainable for future generationsIhssane Mounir, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Boeing
United’s SAF flight on December 1st and new Eco-Skies Alliance participants are among the latest accomplishments towards United’s goal to be 100% green by reducing its GHG emissions 100% by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets. In a further step to build transparency and enable certified SAF emissions reductions for its corporate customers, last month United partnered with Microsoft, Air bp, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Aviation Biomaterials in the first ever book-and-claim pilot.