United Airlines has become the first US airline to publicly commit to an industry target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050.
The US carrier will mark the decision Friday by flying the longest biofuel flight to date by a US airline when it operates a Boeing 787 Dreamliner powered by a 30/70 blend of biofuel from San Francisco to Zurich.
The flight will also be the longest trans-Atlantic service to use a sustainable fuel blend, the airline said.
The ambitious target to halve greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2005 levels was set for the industry by the International Air Transport Association in 2009 but was seen by a number of airlines at that time as a notional goal.
The thinking on the target has since hardened and United said the pledge to meet it would remove 21 million tonnes of C02 emissions per year, or the equivalent of taking 4.5 million cars off the road.
This would cover all the cars in New York and Los Angeles combined, it said.
Airlines are again facing rising fuel prices: they are up 50 percent in the past year and United is currently paying $US15,000 per minute to power its aircraft.
the airline says it will continue to invest in ongoing environmental initiatives including expanding the use of more sustainable aviation biofuels, a $US2 billion annual investment in more fuel-efficient aircraft into its fleet and implementing further operational changes to better conserve fuel.
“Regardless of whether oil prices rise or fall, the inherent volatility and environmental impact of fossil fuels exert their own costs, to the bottom line, the customer and the planet,” United chief executive Oscar Munoz said.
“The ultimate hedge against those costs is to transition to alternative and renewable sources of energy.
“We believe there is no point in setting challenging and ambitious goals without also taking tangible steps towards achieving them, especially when it comes to securing the health of our communities and our planet.”
Munoz said United was proud to be the first US carrier to publicly make the greenhouse gas commitment but looked forward to sharing the distinction with the rest of the industry.
United already uses sustainable aviation fuel on a daily basis and is investing more than $US30 million in California-based sustainable aviation fuels producer Fulcrum BioEnergy.
The airline’s offtake agreement to take 1 billion gallons of fuel from Fulcrum in the biggest such deal in the industry.
It was the first airline to fly with Boeing’s Scitmar Winglets, designed to cut fuel consumption by 2 percent, and is one of a number of airlines to replace plastic stirring sticks and cocktail picks with bamboo products.
It also replacing some ground equipment with electrically powered alternatives.