United Airlines launches first regularly scheduled sustainable biofuel flights

United Flight 708 breaks new ground as the first sustainably fueled flight
© United

Things move slowly in the aviation industry.

I don't mean the planes, hurtling through the skies at high speed day after day with a safety record better than driving. It is a remarkable human accomplishment, but one that is increasingly being questioned, as the planes' contrails have been challenged due to the effects of "direct injection" of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere, and even the warming effects of those narrow clouds themselves rates study.

In response, airlines have been investigating greener options, including sustainable jet fuels. United Airlines created a stir when they stole Alaska Airline's thunder with the first commercial biofuel flight in the U.S. That was in 2011.

Now, finally, on the 11th of March of 2016, the first regularly scheduled flight to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco powered by sustainable biofuel took to the air. It is a bit of a gimmick, because the scheduled flights with the dedicated use of the biofuel will be maintained for only two weeks. However the milestone does highlight the closing of a 3-year contract for delivery of 15 million gallons of sustainable biofuel from AltAir Paramount, a California-based refinery that converts sustainable feedstocks, like non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes, into low-carbon, renewable jet fuel, according to United.

The press release is not clear about what will happen with the sustainable fuel after the two weeks of milestone flights, but presumably United will return to the practice of mxing the sustainable fuel with standard jet fuel. This "gimmick" may upset some who wish to see faster action on biofuels, but it pays to understand that the airlines move slowly for a good reason. The safety of many people depends on the reliability of those engines and fuel systems. Airlines need to assess and understand all the implications of the new fuel on the safety of their fleets.

So while they are logging pings from tracking devices on butterflies, the airlines will also be fueling our flights with more sustainable options, slowly and methodically, until the day arrives when all commercial flights are putting no more carbon dioxide into the air than the plants that fuel them took out of it.

Tags: Airplanes | Air Travel | Biofuels

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