United Airlines has taken an equity stake in hydrogen-electric engine developer Zeroavia, as part of plans to eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The US carrier says that it expects to purchase up to 100 of Zeroavia’s zero-emission engines, which could be retrofitted to United Express’ CRJ-550 aircraft as early as 2028.

British/American firm Zeroavia recently announced plans for zero emission commercial passenger flights between Rotterdam The Hague airport and London in 2024.

Zeroavia plans hydrogen-electric flights between London and Rotterdam in 2024

The new agreement will see United “pursue a conditional purchase agreement for 50 Zeroavia ZA2000-RJ engines, with an option for 50 more, enough for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft which would be operated by United Express partners once they are fully developed and certified by regulators”.

In December 2020 United announced a target of becoming carbon neutral by the middle of this century, using initiatives which do not rely on traditional carbon offsets.

United Airlines eyes carbon neutrality by 2050

This summer United Airlines Ventures signed an agreement with Heart Aerospace to acquire 100 of its ES-19 aircraft, and in February the group signed an agreement with sustainable air mobility firm Archer Aviation to accelerate the production of short-haul electric aircraft.

United said that a recent agreement to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from Alder Fuels meant that it had now committed to purchase more than twice as much of the fuel as the rest of the world’s airlines combined.

And earlier this month the carrier operated a flight between Chicago and Washington DC where one engine ran on 100 per cent SAF (while the other engine flew on conventional fuel), “to further prove there are no operational differences between the two”.

Commenting on the news Scott Kirby, CEO of United, said:

“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in front on this important emerging technology.

“United continues to look for opportunities to not only advance our own sustainability initiatives but also identify and help technologies and solutions that the entire industry can adopt.”

united.com, zeroavia.com