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United Reveals Partnership With Sustainable Fuel Business Venture

A United Eco-Skies 737 on approach into Las Vegas. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

The aviation industry is often misportrayed as a major contributor to air pollution, although global travel contributes approximately 2% of CO2 emissions, but is still defined as not environmentally friendly or sustainable, within itself.

The largest, prominent issue facing airlines right now is the continuation of using traditional fossil fuels, which can be costly for the carrier and the environment. However, technological advancements and scientific research trends are causing the industry to undertake a huge transformation and shift towards an auspicious direction, where several major airlines drafted and adapted ambitious sustainability goals and net-zero carbon emission practices. For United, this means an investment for agreements with partners who produce an alternative to traditional fossil fuels. 

The notable Star Alliance carrier plans to enter a joint agreement with Honeywell to support and invest in Alder Fuels – a major producer and business venture of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) on a large industrial scale through the conversion of plant and crop matter. Within the investment, United intends to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of SAF over the time frame of 20 years.

“Since announcing our 100% green commitment in 2020, United has stayed focused on decarbonizing without relying on the use of traditional carbon offsets. Part of that commitment means increasing SAF usage and availability since it’s the fastest way to reduce emissions across our fleet. However, to scale SAF as quickly as necessary, we need to look beyond existing solutions and invest in research and development for new pathways like the one Alder is developing,” Scott Kirby, CEO, United said. Our leadership gives customers confidence that they are flying with an airline that recognizes the responsibility we have to help solve climate change.”

In late December 2020, the carrier announced its pledge and commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 100 percent by 2050 through the use of SAF, its involvement in technology capturing carbon emissions and purchasing carbon offsets. The carrier remains active in attempting to mitigate the climate risks and cut emissions as part of its Eco-Skies initiative.

Industry-Wide Quest For Sustainability

The ongoing COVID-19 predicament continues to present obstacles and be a hurdle for carriers like United as they continue to navigate and adapt to the fluctuating passenger travel demand and travel restrictions. Nonetheless, United joins the race along with other carriers towards the ongoing trend to become carbon neutral and operate a fuel-efficient, sustainable fleet.

Simultaneously, Delta – one of the three legacy carriers in the U.S. – recently announced its new carbon emissions target. The Atlanta-based carrier intends to eventually replace 10% of its fossil fuel supply with SAF by 2030 and plans to work with the Scientific Based Target Initiative (SBTI), which will certainly create a level, competitive field for flight operations against United and other carriers.

The SkyTeam carrier’s partnership in the SBTI includes goals that align with the Paris Agreement and will possibly encourage the carrier to renew its fleet while focusing on using more SAF for its aircrafts’ operational efficiencies.

Clearly, the airline industry is redefining itself and shift towards more sustainable, eco-friendly practices that will hopefully become long-term. United and one of its cutthroat rivals, Delta, are preparing to shift towards the new changes. However, with the new technology and research, both carriers should be aware of the costs that come from moving away from traditional practices, especially during the surges in passenger demand.

Benjamin Pham


  • Benjamin Pham

    Benjamin has had a love for aviation since a young age, growing up in Tampa with a strong interest in airplane models and playing with them. When he moved to the Washington, D.C. area, Benjamin took part in aviation photography for a couple of years at Gravelly Point and Dulles Airport, before dedicating planespotting to only when he traveled to the other airports. He is an avid, world traveler, having been able to reach 32 countries, yearning to explore and understand more cultures soon. Currently, Benjamin is an Air Transporation Management student at Arizona State University. He hopes to enter the airline industry to improve the passenger experience and loyalty programs while keeping up to how technology is being integrated into airports.

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