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NRES 439 Environment and Sustainable Development

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  • United Airlines operates 100% sustainable fuel commercial flight for the first time in history.

    When it comes to transportation in the United States, few cities are of greater importance than Chicago. The city is a hub for rail transit, water transit through the Great Lakes, and for air travel at its O’Hare and Midway airports. As it currently stands, air travel is a favorite for many Americans due to its speed and price when compared to driving or taking a train, such as Amtrak. It should be no surprise that commercial aviation is incredibly harsh on the environment, from the enormous quantities of materials needed for construction to the associated emissions with the production and consumption of jet fuel. There seem to be two apparent routes for the future in order to make commercial aviation more sustainable: electric airplanes, or sustainable biofuels. This past Wednesday, 1 December 2021, Chicago-based United Airlines made history in the field of renewable aviation, operating the first commercial flight with 100% sustainable fuel. The flight operated from Chicago’s O’Hare airport and Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan airport carrying 100 passengers including the CEO of United Airlines. United Airlines has been a frontrunner in the push for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF’s) for some time now, and has regularly been mixing sustainable fuels into their conventional fuels since 2016. I think this action by United Airlines is admirable for the attempts they’re making at changing the current regulations regarding SAF’s. Currently, up to 50% of an aircraft’s fuel can be derived from SAF’s, but United hopes to challenge this notion by demonstrating no operational difference between conventional and sustainable fuels. 

    These actions by United Airlines help to demonstrate their commitment to circular principles and incorporate them into their business in several ways. First, the opportunity provides the opportunity for American investors to enter the business industry as sustainable fuels will continue to grow in demand. Using plant-derived sustainable fuels also allows for United Airlines to recycle and add potential waste back into the manufacturing process, helping to lessen the massive carbon footprint of this essential industry.