United Airlines flies first commercial jet on IAH sustainable fuel


Chicago-based United Airlines on Wednesday launched a test flight of a commercial aircraft using 100% sustainable aviation fuel in Houston.

A Boeing 737 Max 8 circled the George Bush Intercontinental Airport for an hour and a half, flying on a durable fuel engine and a second engine filled with traditional jet fuel to compare performance and demonstrate that there was no no operational problem with the alternative fuel.

The 737 aircraft, which can accommodate up to 150 people, had only two United Airlines pilots on board for the test flight, flight test director Ryan Smith and chief test pilot Ty Loutzemheiser.

The test flight went well, said Smith, who has 37 years of experience as a pilot.

“It went really well,” said Smith. “The SAF performed on the plane exactly as we expected, matching the performance of the jet fuel entering the left engine.”

United will be the first commercial airline to operate a 100% SAF flight, partnering with Boeing from Chicago, Virent from Madison, Wisconsin, and Marathon Petroleum from Houston, CFM / GE Aviation from Cincinnati and World Energy from Boston, said the carrier. Drop-in SAF meets today’s requirements for petroleum-based jet fuel and can be replaced by jet fuel without any modification to the engines and airframes.

The 737 Max 8 is the same aircraft that will be used when the first passenger flight using SAF takes off, likely by the end of the year, from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Ronald National Airport. Reagan from Washington in Washington, DC

Passengers will not feel any difference with the switch to FAS, Smith said.

“From the cockpit, we didn’t notice anything in terms of the different vibrations,” Smith said. “There was no smoke or smell. I felt like I was on a regular 737.

The switch to SAF is part of United’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets. It also responds to increased customer demand and government requirements for cleaner energy to reduce global warming.

In the United States, President Joe Biden pledged in April to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030, as part of an administration’s effort to aggressively fight against climate change.

The airline industry has been decimated by the pandemic. International travel is not expected to rebound quickly due to declining vaccination rates in many parts of the world and the resurgence of the coronavirus via the delta variant.

Globally, demand for jet fuel is expected to reach 5.8 million barrels per day in 2021, about 30% more than in 2020, the EIA said. Before the pandemic, some 7.5 million barrels of jet fuel were consumed daily around the world.

But domestic travel to the United States for United has almost reached pre-pandemic levels. The carrier said it would operate 3,500 daily flights in December, the most since the start of the pandemic. That figure represents 91% of the carrier’s capacity compared to December 2019, according to United.

The new 737 Max 8, which joined the carrier’s national fleet on July 16, is the first of 270 jets expected to be delivered to United by 2025.

Additionally, the carrier announced in July that it would purchase 100 ES-19 planes from Swedish electric aircraft start-up Heart Aerospace. The ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft that could hit the market as early as 2026, has the potential to fly up to 250 miles. By using electric motors instead of jet engines and batteries instead of jet fuel, Heart’s ES-19 aircraft will have zero operational emissions.

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