United Airlines (UA) has reduced its Scope 1 carbon footprint by more than 11 percent in 2009, compared to the previous year, due to a number of factors including capacity reductions and the retirement of nearly 100 of UA’s oldest and least efficient airplanes, according to the company’s 2009-2010 Corporate Responsibility Report. These will be replaced by 50 new widebody aircraft that are lighter, quieter and 33 percent more fuel efficient.
United is making progress to improve environmental impact by expanding its onboard recycling programs on U.S. routes, promoting alternative fuels and advocating for regulatory change. It is also implementing environmental programs in its operations on the ground. Here’s how UA progressed over the past year.
In order to demonstrate the viability of alternative fuels, United flew the first flight by a U.S. commercial airline using natural gas synthetic jet fuel. United also flew the first trans-Atlantic “Green Corridor” roundtrip flight on World Environment Day in 2010, reducing CO2 emissions by 20,000 pounds.
UA has signed three memorandums of understanding supply agreements for environmentally-friendly fuel alternatives. These include agreements with AltAir Fuels for jet fuel produced with a feedstock derived from camelina oil, Rentech for synthetic jet fuels made from biomass, sewage sludge, natural gas and coal, and GEVO, which will retrofit its existing ethanol production facilities to produce isobutanol and eventually incorporate cellulosic biomass feedstocks.
The airline also increased the number of its electric and alternative fuel vehicles in its ground service equipment fleet by 15 percent in 2009. In 2009, these vehicles made up 26 percent of its total ground fleet.
UA’s onboard recycling program has the capability to recycle up to 25 million cans and 6 million plastic bottles on its eligible U.S. routes, diverting up to 590 tons of waste from landfills. The airline is implementing enhanced recycling programs at its hubs and at its Boston station, where it is evaluating new procedures that may increase its recycling rate from under 10 percent to 26 percent.
The airline also is working to generate less waste. As an example, over the past year, UA reduced its regulated waste footprint by 6,642 tons at its Denver training facility by eliminating the contaminants from the cooling tower water, which allows it to now be treated as normal waste water.
In order to cut its jet fuel use per flight, while waiting for NextGen, the updated air traffic control system, UA is implementing “NowGen” where it uses tailored arrivals and a continuous descent approach (CDA). Both procedures save thousands of gallons of jet fuel per flight, according to the report. CDA also offers an added benefit of less noise.
These initiatives have required UA to make an investment in technology, including new flight management systems and upgrades to onboard Global Positioning Systems.
Between 1990 and 2009, United Airlines achieved a 32 percent improvement in its fuel efficiency (gallons per revenue ton mile).
On the ground at its stations, the airline is looking to increase its use of zero-emission ground vehicles, reduce water use, use ground power to reduce use of aircrafts’ Auxiliary Power Units that are powered by jet fuel, and promote the use of single-engine taxiing and tractors to tow planes instead of powering up aircraft engines.
A prototype tractor towed more than 540 airplanes between February and August 2010 at the Denver International Airport, which is equivalent to reducing the use of 21,600 gallons of jet fuel, according to UA.
UA also adopted the Pratt & Whitney EcoPower engine wash system to clean its engines. Over time, this system has increased its fuel efficiency (saving more than three million gallons of jet fuel and reducing CO2 emissions by 28,000 metric tons each year), eliminated any discharge of contaminated wastewater, and saved more than 70,000 gallons of water per year as compared to traditional engine wash systems.
At its facilities, UA is reducing its water footprint at its headquarters and new operations center at Willis Tower with both facilities meeting the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver certification.
At its headquarters, UA has achieved more than a 20 percent reduction in its water footprint and at its new operations center at Willis Tower, water use is expected to be reduced by more than 30 percent compared to traditional office buildings.
a Union representation
b Differences represented from our 2008–2009 Corporate Responsibility Report reflect improved methodology in collecting data
c Represents data not captured in our 2008–2009 Corporate Responsibility Report
n/a Data not available for reporting period
n/c N o change