United flight from Chicago to Washington will make aviation history

A United Airlines flight from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to Washington Wednesday will make aviation history as the first commercial flight carrying passengers that is operating on 100% sustainable fuel in one of two engines. (Courtesy United Airlines)

A United Airlines flight from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to Washington Wednesday will make aviation history as the first commercial flight carrying passengers that is operating on 100% sustainable fuel in one of two engines.

The jet engine is fueled with non-petroleum feedstocks.

The 737 Max 8, carrying more than 100 passengers, is scheduled to land at Reagan National Airport at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

United says it has agreed to purchase nearly twice as much sustainable aviation fuel as any other airline. Sustainable aviation fuels have the potential to deliver the same performance of petroleum-based jet fuel with a fraction of the carbon footprint.

The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated the country’s feedstock resources are enough to meet the projected fuel demand of the entire U.S. aviation industry.

Wednesday’s demonstration flight uses 500 gallons of sustainable aviation fuel for one jet engine and an equal amount of conventional jet fuel for the other, to demonstrate no operational difference between the two. Airlines are currently only permitted to use a maximum of 50% sustainable aviation on board.

Sustainable airline fuels can be mixed with conventional jet fuel, but this is the first commercial flight using 100% for an engine.

United says the sustainable aviation fuel being used is compatible with existing aircraft fleets. The demonstration flight is a partnership with World Energy, the only commercial sustainable aviation fuel producer in North America.

United also announced several new corporate partners for its Eco-Skies Alliance program, which was launched in April.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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