United has achieved a historical milestone in aviation as the first commercial carrier to fly an aircraft full of passengers while using 100% sustainable fuel.
United Airlines has invested heavily in new technology in 2021 while also focusing on sustainability. In June, the company committed to purchasing 15 Overture supersonic aircraft from Boom Supersonic, which will have the capacity to fly on 100% sustainable aviation fuel. United also announced in February that they were partnering with Archer Aviation to purchase 200 electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, demonstrating a strong interest in investing in clean technologies. Additionally, a release in September reported a huge purchase agreement between United and Honeywell, who have committed to purchasing 1.5 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Alder Fuels—a clean-tech company converting forest and crop waste into drop-in replacement crude oil.
Now, United has announced a landmark achievement in aviation: they are the first commercial carrier to fly an aircraft full of passengers while using 100% sustainable fuel. The flight transported more than 100 individuals and traveled from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., powered with 500 gallons of sustainable aviation fuel.
According to the press release, this historical flight was conducted in partnership with Boeing, CFM International, Virent (a subsidiary of Marathon), and World Energy—the first commercial sustainable aviation fuel producer in North America. The Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Boeing, Ihssane Mounir, 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. [...] It will require partnerships like this to ensure aviation is safe and sustainable for future generations.”
Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy, discussed the growing demands for connections made possible by aviation: “We need to develop affordable, high energy density, low-carbon liquid fuels at scale everywhere to allow those connections to be made sustainably.”
“Now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation. With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground," said United CEO Scott Kirby.
United launched a program earlier this year, the Eco-Skies Alliance Program, to encourage leading corporations around the world to contribute to the purchase of sustainable aviation fuel.
Participation in this program has led to more than 7 million gallons of sustainable fuel and marks United’s significant progress towards reducing GHG emissions by 100% before 2050.
One barrier to widespread adoption of sustainable aviation fuel is the cost of production. It can cost four or five times more than existing conventional fuels, according to an article published on AviationToday.com. Aviation industry experts believe “a combination of policy incentives, capital investments, and time is necessary for these fuels to be an effective sustainable solution for the industry.”
When United announced its partnership with Archer Aviation, United CEO Scott Kirby shared thoughts on the decarbonization of air travel. “Now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation. With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground.”