United Airlines’ journey to a fleet powered exclusively by sustainable aviation fuel began Wednesday with a single flight form Chicago to Washington, D.C. The flight carried just more than 100 passengers, including United CEO Scott Kirby. It was the first passenger flight to go for a time using only SAF, which can be made from biological waste oils, crop residue, or non-fossil carbon dioxide. A so-called “drop-in fuel,” SAF can be mixed with conventional petroleum-based jet fuel or power aircraft engines on its own.
Wednesday’s flight on a United 737 MAX 8 used 500 gallons of SAF in one engine and 500 gallons of petroleum-based jet fuel in the other engine, with each engine operating on its own for stretches. The aim was to show that SAF alone provides a smooth and safe flight.
“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,” Kirby said.
World Energy provided the SAF for Wednesday’s flight.
“When we fly, we connect, and our demand for the connections aviation makes possible are only going to grow,” World Energy CEO Gene Gebolys said. “But we need to develop affordable, high energy density, low-carbon liquid fuels at scale everywhere to allow those connections to be made sustainably.”
In 2018, United vowed to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 and has since set the goal of being net-zero by then.
“United continues to lead from the front when it comes to climate change action,” Kirby said.