United Airlines has today announced its latest investment in sustainability.
United invests in hydrogen-electric engines
United Airlines is spending $35 million to acquire an equity stake in hydrogen-electric engine developer ZeroAvia. Hydrogen-electric engines use electricity created by a chemical reaction in a fuel cell to power an electric motor, instead of burning fossil fuel. This investment is part of United’s goal of being 100% green by reducing GHG remissions by 100% by 2050, without relying on carbon offsets.
This agreement also gives United the ability to purchase up to 100 zero-emission, 100% hydrogen engines that would be used on United Express regional jet aircraft by 2028. United is conditionally purchasing 50 ZeroAvia ZA2000-RJ engines, with an option for 50 more, which would be enough to power 50 twin-engine aircraft. Specifically, these engines could be retrofitted on existing United Express aircraft, including the premium 50-seat CRJ-550.
The first step for ZeroAvia is to develop the ZA600 engine, which can be used on 19-seat aircraft. The aim is to have these in commercial service by 2024. From there the company is hoping to develop hydrogen-electric propulsion for progressively larger aircraft.
Here’s how United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby described this initiative:
“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in front on this important emerging technology. United continues to look for opportunities to not only advance our own sustainability initiatives but also identify and help technologies and solutions that the entire industry can adopt.”
It’s great to see United focused on the future
Today’s announcement of United investing in hydrogen-electric aircraft is far from the first such initiative from the airline. In the past year or so, United has also announced plans to purchase 200 electric air taxis, 19-seat electric jets, and supersonic jets, among other initiatives.
Will these concepts ever come to life? I don’t know, it’s anyone’s guess. I’ll be the first to admit that I was initially skeptical of United’s motives here. That’s changing over time, and I’m happy to see United’s investments in these areas:
- Yes, there’s no denying that this is largely about optics, and about United Airlines trying to reposition itself as an innovative carrier; Scott Kirby has done a phenomenal job with that
- While some of these concepts seem hard to grasp at this point, realistically they’ll only ever become a reality if they get the backing (both in terms of money and confidence) from major companies, like United
- So while American is investing in turkey pastrami sandwiches and removing televisions from planes, United is investing in the future, and is also investing in improving the passenger experience
United Airlines is investing $35 million in ZeroAvia, a hydrogen-electric engine manufacturer. This also includes a conditional order for up to 100 of these engines, with the hope of them being able to power United Express aircraft by 2028. This is United’s latest investment in the future of aviation and reducing emissions.
United’s investment in all of these products is no doubt partly about optics, and about making United seem more innovative and cutting-edge. At the same time, these are positive and needed investments, because aviation is headed this way. Airlines like United investing money in and putting faith in these products improves the odds of these becoming a reality.
I’m curious how many of these concepts we actually see in United’s fleet in the future.
What do you make of United investing in ZeroAvia?