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United to make historic flight using 100% SAF in 1 of 2 engines on aircraft full of passengers

Updated: Dec 7, 2021


Photo: United Airlines

United will operate an unprecedented flight Dec. 1 that is expected to serve as a turning point in the industry’s effort to combat climate change: for the first time in aviation history, a commercial carrier will fly an aircraft full of passengers using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).


The demonstration flight, scheduled for departure Dec. 1 with more than 100 passengers from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and arrival at Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, will be on a new United 737 MAX 8 and use 500 gallons of 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. Currently, airlines are only permitted to use a maximum of 50 percent SAF on board. The SAF used on this flight is drop-in ready and compatible with existing aircraft fleets.


United is operating the flight in partnership with Boeing; CFM International, a 50/50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines; Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon whose technology enables 100 percent drop-in SAF; and SAF producer World Energy.


“The pioneering work is the hardest work, and United has been with us from the very start,” said Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy. “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.”


United also announced Dec. 1 the second round of corporate participants in the airline’s Eco-Skies Alliance program to collectively contribute towards the purchase of SAF. The program was launched in April and now has collectively contributed toward the purchase of more than 7 million gallons of SAF this year alone. The program has nearly 30 participants, the newest of which are American Family Insurance, Biogen, Bolloré Logistics, CWT, Maersk, Meta, Microsoft, Palo Alto Networks, Salesforce, Visa, Yusen Logistics, and Zurich North America.

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