United Airlines paves way for sustainability through biofuel


Airplanes burn thousands of gallons of fuel during flight, which is a huge contributor to the harmful emissions in Earth’s atmosphere. However, exciting sustainability progress was made in the airline industry March 11 by United Airlines. They used biofuel in a commercial flight. 

This was the first time biofuel has ever been used during a commercial flight. The flight was on an Eco-Skies Boeing 737 airplane from Los Angeles International Airport to San Francisco International Airport. 

According to United, the biofuel used was made from “non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes.” So, I’m assuming that means manure. Though the plane only used 30 percent biofuel, this is still a huge step in the right direction. 

Growing up, I’ve always heard a lot about the harmful effects of emissions from vehicles and airplanes and other ways that the human species seems to be destroying the planet. It seems to be the crisis of our generation, but there is a lot of talk and not a lot of action. I actually find it pretty disturbing how apathetic our generation seems to be on global and environmental issues. 

People only seem to be concerned with the here and now and pay little attention to the consequences of our actions. This is the planet we live on and where our children (if you want to have them) will grow up on. Because of this, I am a firm believer that we need to start taking better care of the environment. 

Though there has been slight progress in renewable energy, it seems to be slow and minimal progress. So, to me, this is a sign that we are finally getting somewhere, and companies are starting to care more about the environment. Even though 30 percent does not seem like a lot, considering how much fuel one airplane goes through, it is actually a pretty significant start on trying to cut down on emissions.

According to my father, Chris Yakabe, who is a United Airlines pilot, the Boeing 737 airplane burns about 5,500 pounds of fuel per hour on average and holds between 4,800 and 6,875 gallons of fuel total. With one gallon of fuel being approximately 6.78 pounds, this means that approximately 811 gallons of fuel are burned in an hour by one of the smaller commercial airplanes. 

Even though, according to Boeing’s website, the Boeing 737 now uses 20 percent less fuel per seat than it did in 1995, that is still a lot of fuel. If 30 percent of the fuel used is biofuel, approximately 243 gallons of fuel are being replaced by biofuel in an hour in a Boeing 737. That seems pretty significant to me.  

United claim they will be purchasing up to 15 million gallons over a three year period of biofuel, which will equal out to 12,500 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Also, the AltAir biofuel they are using will reduce more than 60 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions when compared to traditional jet fuel.

Again, it is only one flight out of the thousands of flights each day, but that is still pretty incredible. The steps United has taken toward sustainability puts them far ahead all the other airlines in my book. Personally, I can’t wait until all United flights start using this alternative energy source, and maybe, other airlines will follow suit.


Selena Yakabe is a News Editor for The Collegian and can be reached at [email protected].