United Airlines lays claim to having flown the industry's most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind
United's 'Flight for the Planet' takes on SAF blend at Chicago O'Hare (photo: United Airlines)
Thu 13 June 2019 – United Airlines has undertaken what it claims to be the industry’s most eco-friendly commercial flight to date. Dubbed the ‘Flight for the Planet’, it involved a number of environmental actions that included the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), zero cabin waste efforts, operational efficiencies and carbon offsetting. The flight on World Environment Day from United’s Chicago O’Hare hub to its ‘eco-hub’ in Los Angeles used a 30/70 blend of SAF provided by World Energy and traditional jet fuel. United remains the only US airline to use SAF on a continuous basis and recently renewed its contract with World Energy, agreeing to purchase up to 10 million gallons of “cost-competitive” fuel over the next two years. Meanwhile, Neste and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates five airports, have signed a MoU to facilitate the use of sustainable transportation fuels at Port Authority facilities and in its fleet vehicles and equipment.
Commenting on the United flight, Scott Kirby, the airline’s President, said: “The historic Flight for the Planet showcases United’s philosophy of working together to find new and innovative ways to lead us into a more sustainable future. As an airline, we see our environment from a unique perspective every day and we know we must do our part to protect our planet and our skies.”
In the economy cabin of the flight, traditional snack options were switched with a complimentary plated service featuring fully recyclable or compostable service ware and included a test of what United described as an industry-first, recyclable-paper hot beverage cup.
In the premium cabin, the airline said it is continuing to use reusable service ware, swap plastic lids for beeswax food wrappers and is removing the paper wrapping from silverware roll-ups. United has already eliminated non-recyclable stirring sticks and cocktail picks on aircraft systemwide and replaced them with an environmentally-friendly product made of 100% bamboo.
Fuel-saving operational efficiencies employed for the flight included the use of single-engine taxiing, air traffic control prioritisation and a continuous descent approach into Los Angeles. United used its Eco-Skies liveried Boeing 737-900ER which it said on average carries passengers 77 miles on a single gallon of fuel.
The airline also used electric-powered ground service equipment (GSE) to service the flight at the departure and arrival gates. Around 40% of United’s eligible GSE is electric powered, which rises to 70% at its Los Angeles hub. United says it is the first airline to use new ITW 7400 electric ground power units that substantially reduce noise pollution and cut carbon emissions by 90%.
The remainder of the Flight for the Planet’s emissions are being offset through its new consumer carbon offset provider Conservation International, which promotes nature-based solutions to climate change.
The agreement between producer Neste and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will see the supply of sustainable transportation fuels that include renewable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, renewable propane and other sustainable fuel products. The Port Authority operates New York JFK, New York La Guardia, Newark Liberty International, Teterboro and Stewart International airports.
“As the first US transportation agency to embrace the Paris Climate Agreement, the Port Authority is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by supporting the use of sustainable fuels across our facilities – especially in operations where electrification is not yet viable,” said Christine Weydig, Director of the Port Authority’s Office of Environmental and Energy Programs. “One of the key elements of that commitment is working closely with partners who can help us enact an aggressive sustainability agenda. So we are excited to collaborate with Neste to identify ways to develop the regional market for cleaner liquid fuel, as we work towards our goal of reducing the agency’s emissions 80% by 2050.”
Responded Neste CEO Peter Vanacker: “Decarbonising transportation requires partnering, sharing the same goal and working side by side. We are extremely excited to share our expertise in low-carbon renewable fuels to find solutions for the Port Authority to reach their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
“Over the years we have built a solid track record in decarbonising transportation with our Neste MY Renewable Diesel, and we are in the process of increasing our production capacity of Renewable Jet Fuel to meet the growing demand.”