United to invest in zero-emission engines for regional aircraft

New equity stake in hydrogen-electric engine developer ZeroAvia gives United the ability to purchase up to 100 zero-emission, 100% hydrogen engines ©United Airlines

On December 13, United Airlines (United) became the largest airline to invest in zero-emission, hydrogen-electric engines for regional aircraft, the latest move toward achieving its goal to be 100% green by reducing its GHG emissions by 100% by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.

Through a new equity stake in ZeroAvia, a leading company focused on hydrogen-electric aviation solutions, United expects to buy up to 100 of the company’s new zero-emission, 100% hydrogen-electric engines (ZA2000-RJ). The engine could be retrofitted to existing United Express aircraft as early as 2028. One potential use is on United’s unique CRJ-550, the only 50-seat aircraft which offers first-class and other premium amenities.

Hydrogen-electric engines use electricity created by a chemical reaction in a fuel cell to power an electric motor instead of burning fossil fuel. Because no fuel is burned, there are no climate-harming emissions nor carbon released into the atmosphere when the engines are operated.

The ZA2000-RJ is expected to be used in pairs as a new power source for existing regional aircraft. Under the agreement with United Airlines Ventures, United will pursue a conditional purchase agreement for 50 ZeroAvia ZA2000-RJ engines, with an option for 50 more, enough for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft which would be operated by United Express partners once they are fully developed and certified by regulators.

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