Historic United flight using Sustainable Aviation Fuel takes off from O'Hare

United Airlines flies into the history books with a flight designed to drastically cut carbon emissions.

The plane looks the same, but the fuel powering it is considered a game changer. United’s CEO Scott Kirby led the countdown and celebration at O'Hare, as the Chicago-based airline became the first commercial carrier to fly an aircraft full of passengers using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

"This is an historic day, not only for United Airlines, not only for aviation, but for the globe," said Kirby.

About 100 people boarded the demonstration flight to D.C, aiming to show the alternative fuel delivers the same performance of regular jet fuel but with a fraction of the carbon footprint. This trip comes as pressure ramps up on the airline industry and everyone to address climate change.

"The challenge we have is to decarbonize our society," said Rep. Sean Casten, (D) IL-6th district, as he talked about the need for action.

Casten used to work in a lab trying to make renewable fuels. Now as a congressman, he says the government needs to support these kind of initiatives and other companies need to get on board.

"When people see good things happen, they tend to follow. We saw it when United did a vaccine mandate for their employees and all of a sudden a lot of airlines got on that. So leadership matters. Then we have some tax credits in the Build Back Better plan, which will make it more affordable for other people to follow this lead," said Casten.


However, don’t expect to fly with sustainable fuel next time you visit O'Hare. To make this happen on a wide scale, United says it’s going to take government support, more partners, including other airlines, and a whole lot more money.

"We estimate is going to require $250 billion investment by between now and 2030. And that's just to get to 10%. This can be done, but it's going to require a lot," said Kirby.

So as the flight took off, it carried some baggage: hopes for the future of the airline industry, as well as the planet.