United has become the world’s largest airline to invest in zero-emission hydrogen-electric engines for regional planes, marking the latest step toward the company’s aim of becoming 100 percent green by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.
United hopes to buy up to 100 of the business’s new zero-emission, 100 percent hydrogen-electric engines through a new ownership interest in ZeroAvia, a leading company focused on hydrogen-electric aviation solutions (ZA2000-RJ). As early as 2028, the engine might be retrofitted into current United Express planes. One possible use is on United’s unique CRJ-550, the only 50-seat aircraft with first-class and other premium amenities, enhancing this already-excellent aircraft and marking yet another first for the airline.
“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising approaches to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft,” said Scott Kirby, United’s CEO. “United continues to seek for ways to not just improve our own sustainability activities, but also to find and assist in the adoption of technologies and solutions that the entire industry can benefit from.”
The ZA2000-RJ will be utilised in pairs as a replacement power supply for existing regional aircraft. United Airlines Ventures has agreed to pursue a conditional purchase deal for 50 ZeroAvia ZA2000-RJ engines, with an option for another 50, sufficient for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft to be operated by United Express partners once completely developed and certified by regulators as early as 2028.
ZeroAvia is speeding up the development of its ZA2000 engine and will shortly begin ground testing of its ZA600 engine in a 19-seat plane, with the goal of putting it into commercial service by 2024. According to ZeroAvia’s plan, hydrogen-electric propulsion will be developed for progressively larger aircraft.
ZeroAvia performed the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial-grade airplane flight in September 2020. The FAA in the United States and the Civil Aviation Authority in the United Kingdom have already granted experimental certificates to ZeroAvia for two prototype aircraft. and has achieved important milestones in-flight testing.
United achieved aviation history on December 1 when it flew from Chicago to Washington, D.C. on 100 percent sustainable aviation gasoline. The flight demonstrated the safety of sustainable aviation fuel as well as the promise of
a significantly lower carbon footprint for aviation.
United struck a record-breaking arrangement with Alder Fuels to acquire sustainable aviation fuel earlier this year, committing to buy more than twice as much as the rest of the world’s airlines combined.
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