United Airlines is aiming for net zero without help from carbon offsetting programmes.
The airline has announced that it will work with its global corporate customers through a new United Eco-Skies Alliance Program. The program will allow those customers to pay for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), and for the first time, also allow individual customers to purchase SAF at the time of booking. The programme is similar to that offered by Air France and KLM.
United says that its commitment to be net zero by 2050 without relying on carbon offsets is “the harder, better path of reducing emissions from flying”.
United says that more than a dozen leading global corporations will collectively contribute towards the purchase of approximately 3.4 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) this year. They are Autodesk, Boston Consulting Group, CEVA Logistics, Deloitte, DHL Global Forwarding, DSV Panalpina, HP Inc., Nike, Palantir, Siemens and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
In addition to the Eco-Skies Alliance program, United is giving customers the ability to contribute funds to additional SAF purchase or to use on initiatives that United believes will help decarbonise aviation. Other airlines offer this through various tools – see our article:
Guide to airline carbon offset programmes
United is the first US airline to offer this.
World Energy, a long-term partner of United, will supply the SAF to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which makes it conveniently accessible to United’s operations.
United says it has made the airline industry’s single largest investment in SAF and has purchased more SAF than any other airline in the world.
With its nearly 80 per cent emissions reductions on a lifecycle basis compared to conventional jet fuel, this is enough SAF to eliminate approximately 31,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or enough to fly passengers over 220 million miles.
“While we’ve partnered with companies for years to help them offset their flight emissions, we applaud those participating in the Eco-Skies Alliance for recognizing the need to go beyond carbon offsets and support SAF-powered flying, which will lead to more affordable supply and ultimately, lower emissions,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “This is just the beginning. Our goal is to add more companies to the Eco-Skies Alliance program, purchase more SAF and work across industries to find other innovative paths towards decarbonization.”
The airline says that “strong federal and state policy leadership will be essential to reducing the climate impacts of air travel.”
Unusually, the airline says it “will help individuals connect with elected representatives to advocate for policies that would make air travel more sustainable for the long term.”
“United will be the first airline in the world to connect customers directly with policy makers to voice the support that is needed to advance and accelerate permanent, scalable solutions that hold the potential to decarbonize the air transportation industry – and not just offset emissions.
“We know there is a growing demand from a wide range of our customers including corporations, cargo shippers and individuals who share the same concern we do – that climate change is the most pressing issue of our generation,” Kirby said.