United Airlines Flies First-Ever Commercial Biofuels Flight in U.S.

contri via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Today, United Airlines made headlines by launching the first-ever commercial flight to run on biofuels. Passengers flew from Houston to Chicago on a Boeing 737 that was powered by a mix of Solazyme algae biofuels and traditional jet fuels. According to Business Green, the blend is reported to be 40% biofuels and 60% traditional jet fuel.

This should be taken as good news indeed, despite the fact that some in the industry are viewing United's maiden biofuel flight as something of a scene-stealing stunt -- if not outright greenwashing. Insiders speculate that United discovered Alaska Airline's plans to run the first biofuel-powered flight later this week, and rushed to grab the spotlight by getting its plane off the ground today.

Why does this matter? It doesn't, really, except that Alaska Airlines has demonstrated a more sincere commitment to biofuels -- see Mike's post on how the company is planning to run 75 flights with a biofuel blend, starting on Wednesday. In fact, I was invited to fly on that maiden voyage, in what was pitched to me as the first-ever commercial biofuel flight in the U.S. Then United pulled the rug out from under Alaska Airlines, so now it looks like I'll be flying on the second ever commercial biofuels flight in the U.S. (There have got to be some angry execs in the Alaskan offices about now; they just lost their news-making hook)

To me, the bottom line seems to be that companies are fighting over who flew a more sustainable flight first, which demonstrates that both think that they're dealing with technology that excites the public. They both know the importance of introducing alternatives to fossil fuels, and that the public -- and the marketplace -- is sure to reward the first airline out the gate to do so.

Tags: Biofuels

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