United commits to a lower carbon footprint during the coming year than its American and Delta rivals
Mon 30 Jan 2017 – United Airlines has pledged it will have a lower gross carbon footprint this year than its two main US rivals, Delta and American, as part of its 2017 Global Performance Commitment to corporate account customers. If the airline fails to meet the target then it will compensate eligible accounts in the form of United Services Funds, which can be used for certain waivers and amenities such as upgrades. The commitment comes as United was named Eco-Airline of the Year by Air Transport World (ATW) magazine for its environmental leadership. The award recognises the carrier’s multiple initiatives over recent years, including becoming the first US airline to begin using commercial-scale volumes of sustainable aviation biofuel on regular scheduled flights from its Los Angeles (LAX) hub and its investment in alternative fuels producer Fulcrum BioEnergy.
United’s Global Performance Commitment programme has, up until now, been used to set standards in on-time arrivals and flight completions, as well as baggage delivery. The airline aims to ensure that over the course of the coming year, the performance across the network in terms of scheduled arrival times and flight cancellations will be better than either Delta or American. It also pledges the mishandled baggage rate will also be lower than its two rivals.
The new additional goal for 2017 defines the airline’s carbon footprint as the carbon output for mainline and regional operations measured in metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions divided by available seat-miles (ASMs). It does not include the purchase of carbon offsets. To measure the carbon footprint of the three airlines, United says it will use Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and independently verified in each competitor’s Carbon Disclosure Project response or corporate responsibility report, and ASMs as reported in financial statements. For the purpose of interim reporting, United will provide fuel efficiency metrics on a quarterly basis as fuel will be considered a proxy reporting metric for carbon emissions.
United started using blended sustainable fuels on flights from LAX in March, following the purchase of 15 million gallons of biofuel from AltAir over a three-year period with the intention of integrating the 30/70 blended fuel into the airport’s regular jet fuel supply operations. AltAir has also received ATW’s Eco-Company of the year award for 2016. AltAir’s retrofitted biorefinery in Paramount, California, is expected to produce 35 million gallons per year when it becomes fully operational. The facility converts sustainably-sourced non-edible, natural oils and agricultural wastes into jet fuel that is claimed to provide a greater than 60% reduction in life-cycle carbon emissions when compared to jet fuel produced from traditional petroleum.
Under United’s partnership with Fulcrum, which was announced in June 2015, up to five biofuel refineries are to be developed and located near US hubs These refineries are expected to produce up to 180 million gallons per year from municipal solid waste, with United having the option to purchase at least 90 million gallons each year for a minimum of 10 years, subject to availability. First deliveries could start from as early as next year, says United.
Other achievements recognised by the ATW award include United becoming the first airline to fly with Boeing’s Split Scimitar winglets, which reduce fuel consumption by up to 2%, continued replacement of eligible ground equipment with electric-powered alternatives and the airline’s Eco-Skies CarbonChoice carbon offset programme, which United says is the airline industry’s only such programme for corporate business travel and cargo shipments.
United is also the only US-based airline named to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s ‘Leadership’ category for environmental disclosure, with an A- score in 2016.
“Innovation and sustainability are twin engines that drive our progress as the most environmentally conscious airline in the world,” said CEO Oscar Munoz, commenting on the award. “From pioneering investments in biofuels to increasing efficiency and reducing waste to supporting a single global market-based measure for carbon emissions, United is committed to innovating solutions that we hope will become the expectation for our industry, not the exception. And while we take great pride in this important recognition for our efforts, the measure of our success is the opinion of our children and grandchildren who will look back on our efforts and say that we lived up to our obligations to them in protecting the planet for future generations.”