United Makes First Commercial Flight Using All Sustainable Aviation Fuel

(Credit: United)

United this week became the first airline to operate a commercial flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel.

The flight took more than 100 passengers from Chicago to Washington, D.C., on the airline’s new United 737 Max 8. United says the flight used 500 gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one engine and the same amount of traditional fuel in the other engine to prove there were no operational differences between the two.

Currently, airlines are only permitted to use a maximum of 50% SAF on board. CNET.com reported United got permission to use one engine with all SAF and that the flight produced 75% less carbon dioxide than a traditional flight.

United says the SAF is “drop-in ready” meaning the fuel can be used alone, mixed with traditional aviation fuel and used with different fleets. United CEO Scott Kirby says it will require $250 billion to ramp up SAF production enough to make similar flights routine, according to Axios.

The airline also says it has added a second round of corporate participants to its Eco-Skies Alliance program, which is designed to contribute to the purchase of SAF. The program launched in April 2021 and United has purchased more than 7 million gallons of SAF this year.

New participants in the program include Microsoft, American Family Insurance and Visa.

Additionally, United is part of a group of major US airlines that pledged to produce commercially viable SAF and make 2 billion gallons of the fuel available to operators by 2030. The members of the Airlines for America trade organization also pledged to net-carbon zero by 2050.

As the demand for SAF grows in the industry, Delta agreed to purchase $1 billion of SAF earlier in 2021 and Twelve recently announced it has produced a completely “fossil free” SAF.

This year United has purchased 1.5 billion gallons of SAF from Alder Fuels and has an option to buy another 900 million gallons from Fulcrum BioEnergy. The airline also announced an agreement earlier in 2021 with Archer Aviation to accelerate development of electric aircraft.

United says that SAF can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, cutting 66,000 metric tons of the emissions.

“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 says.

United offered the SAF commercial flight in partnership with Boeing, CFM International, Virent and World Energy.

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