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Cleantech
United Airlines Announces Fuel-Savings Goal for 2013

United Airlines is commemorating Earth Month by announcing its commitment to save 85 million gallons of fuel this year under the umbrella of its Eco-Skies program. This would lead to a reduction of 828,750 metric tons of CO2 and a savings of $275 million at current fuel prices.

United Airlines is commemorating Earth Month by announcing its commitment to save 85 million gallons of fuel this year under the umbrella of its Eco-Skies program. This would lead to a reduction of 828,750 metric tons of CO2 and a savings of $275 million at current fuel prices.

Fuel is the airline’s largest expense, and it seems unlikely that this reduction will begin to change that. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, United consumed 1.88 billion gallons of fuel in 2011. However, this was prior to its merger with Continental Airlines. If the fuel consumption from Continental airlines from 2011 is added to the United tally, there is a total fuel consumption of 3.29 billion gallons. While it is true that Continental was not under United’s control during this period and the 2012 statistics are not yet completed, the post-merger United is on track to exceed the 2011 total.

A saving of 85 million out of 3.29 billion is roughly 2.6%.

This isn’t to say United doesn’t value sustainability and isn’t working to incorporate it into its operations. The airline has improved its fuel efficiency 32% since 1994 through a combination of flight planning, single engine taxiing, lighter products onboard the aircraft, and the use of ground power when possible. United has also begun to invest in a fuel-efficient fleet to replace many of its older aircraft. In 2012, 150 new Boeing 737 aircraft were added to the fleet, powered by fuel-efficient CFM engines.

In 2011, the Eco-Skies program also promoted the first U.S. passenger biofuel flight powered by a mix of renewable algae-derived jet fuel and conventional jet fuel. This was followed by a number of signed letters of intent to negotiate the purchase of more than 50 million gallons of biofuels.

Last spring, Greenopia ranked United “most improved” and #3 overall in its 2012 rankings of airline sustainability. This ongoing commitment to fuel reduction and efficiency is certainly a positive. However, a goal to reduce by only 2.5% begs the question: Is it enough?

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