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United Airlines becomes first to use neat SAF in a passenger flight

In the United States (US), airline major United Airlines Inc (United), has become the first in aviation history to fly a commercial passenger flight using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one of the two engines of new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The company also announced the second round of corporate participants in the airline’s recently launched Eco-Skies Alliance program to collectively contribute towards the purchase of SAF.

United Airlines Inc (United), has become the first in aviation history to fly a commercial passenger flight using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one of the two engines of the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The flight, which took place on December 1, 2021, was from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA). The company also announced the second round of corporate participants in the airline’s recently launched Eco-Skies Alliance program to collectively contribute towards the purchase of SAF (photo courtesy United).

United is the world leader in the usage and support for the development of SAF, an alternative fuel made with non-petroleum feedstocks, already having agreements to purchase nearly twice as much SAF as the known agreements of all other global airlines combined.

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, said Scott Kirby, CEO, United who participated in the historic SAF flight.

Currently, airlines are only permitted to use a maximum of 50 permitted SAF on board. The SAF used on the commercial demonstration flight is drop-in ready and compatible with existing aircraft fleets.

The flight, which took place on December 1, 2021, was operated in partnership with The Boeing Company (Boeing), CFM International – a 50/50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines SA, Virent Inc., – a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation (Marathon), and World Energy LLC – the world’s first and North America’s only commercial SAF producer.

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 percent renewable and 100 percent compatible with our current aviation fleet and infrastructure. We are proud to be playing a role in this advancement toward sustainable aviation fuels, said Dave Kettner, President and General Counsel of Virent.

In 2016, United became the first airline globally to use SAF in regular operations on a continuous basis with SAF from World Energy.

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, said Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy.

The demonstration flight departed with more than 100 passengers including executives from partner companies along with other business leaders, government officials, NGOs, and members of the media, from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA).

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, said Ihssane Mounir, SVP of Sales and Marketing for The Boeing Company.

The new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft was fuelled with 500 (US) gallons (≈ 1 893 litres) of 100 percent 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.

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 being 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, said Gaël Méheust, President, and CEO of CFM International.

United’s Eco-Skies Alliance program, which was launched in April 2021, has now almost 30 corporate participants including global companies such as DHL Global Forwarding, HP Inc., Nike, Maersk, and Microsoft.

In a further step to build transparency and enable certified SAF emissions reductions for its corporate customers, United partnered with Microsoft, Air bp, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) in the first-ever Book & Claim pilot.

Already the program has collectively contributed toward the purchase of more than 7 million (US) gallons (≈ 26.5 million litres) of SAF this year alone.

With its nearly 80 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions on a lifecycle basis compared to conventional jet fuel, this is enough SAF to eliminate approximately 66 000 tonnes of GHG emissions, and part of United’s updated goal to be 100 percent green by reducing its GHG emissions 100 percent by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.

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