Today, United Airlines announced its plans to completely remove net emissions from its fleet of commercial airlines without the use of carbon offsets.

The major airline pledges to eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 making it the latest to commit to become carbon neutral. It will invest in a carbon capture plant that can directly extract carbon dioxide from the air. United follows in the footsteps of Delta and JetBlue, which have committed to being carbon neutral by 2040. The company will continue to use sustainable aviation fuel and fuel from sustainable sources.

The company says the carbon dioxide captured will be stored underground, but the process will still contribute to extraction of more fossil fuels in the long run, the airline says. The move could raise the bar for other airlines to follow suit.

In place of a conventional approach to decarbonisation, United plans to invest millions in 1Point Five, Inc., a partnership between Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental, and Rusheen Capital Management, rather than simply purchase carbon offsets. 1PointFive's mission is to stop rising international temperatures through physical removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from air using Carbon Engineering's Direct Air Capture technology.

"As the leader of one of the world's largest airlines, I recognize our responsibility in contributing to fight climate change, as well as our responsibility to solve it," said Scott Kirby, United's chief executive officer. "These game-changing technologies will significantly reduce our emissions, and measurably reduce the speed of climate change – because buying carbon offsets alone is just not enough. Perhaps most importantly, we're not just doing it to meet our own sustainability goal; we're doing it to drive the positive change our entire industry requires so that every airline can eventually join us and do the same."

Photo by Emiel Molenaar / Unsplash

Direct Air Capture is one of the few proven methods to correct aircraft emissions physically and can measure millions and potentially billions of tons per year in CO2 capture. Occidental, a process certified by independent third parties, will then permanently, safely, and securely store the captured CO2 underground.

1Point Five will be helping to build 1Point's first industrial direct air capture facility in the United States, the first to be known in the aviation industry. One single plant is expected to catch and sequester one million tons of CO2 per year the equivalent of 40 million trees per year but covering a terrestrial area approximately 3000 times smaller.

United holds more than 50% of all publicly announced future purchase commitments to using sustainable aviation fuel. United renewed its contract with Boston-based World Energy, agreeing to purchase up to 10 million gallons of SAF. United has used this SAF to help sustainably power every flight departing its Los Angeles hub since 2016.