In a shrewd move that has netted positive headlines from around the world, United Airlines continued its push toward net zero carbon emissions with a new investment in ZeroAvia hydrogen-electric engines. With this sustainability investment and engine order, United hopes to begin retrofitting existing regional jets by the end of the decade. It also demonstrated a far more effective publicity campaign than buying air time or ad space.
United Airlines Buys Equity Stake in ZeroAvia, Producer Of Hydrogen-Electric Engines
United Airlines announced on Monday that it is obtaining an equity stake in ZeroAvia, a hydrogen-electric engine developer. The initial investment amount will be $35 million.
Hydrogen-electric engines use electricity created by a chemical reaction in a fuel cell to power an electric motor instead of burning fossil fuel. As United explains it, because no fuel is burned, there are no climate-harming emissions or carbon released into the atmosphere when the engines are operated.
With this investment, United will buy up to 100 ZA2000-RJ that could be used to power 50-seat regional aircraft in the United Express fleet as soon as 2028. ZeroVia is currently in the testing phase of its smaller ZA600 engine, which it hopes will power 19-seat electric aircraft by 2024.
Speaking of the move, United CEO Scott Kirby said:
“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.”
This Is About Marketing Too.
Once again, I am so impressed that United has reimagined its marketing strategy. Rather than sinking millions into flashy commercials or catchy slogans, it is redirecting that money toward investments in fledgling companies, one or more of which may actually prove viable.
We don’t know even know yet if the resources required to create all these sustainable technologies are even worse than burning fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean United and other companies shouldn’t try, though, to reduce carbon emissions and be better stewards of planet Earth.
But everyone loves the company that “does the right thing” and therefore I must applaud United’s genius team for recognizing public sentiment and capitalizing on it. You can’t pay for coverage this positive…
It’s still rather far-fetched to think that regional jets will be powered by hydrogen-electric engines by the end of the decade. But progress is made incrementally and we won’t know if something is viable unless we try it. Thus, I’ve moved from intrigue to support of United’s raft of climate-friendly initiatives. Why? Because if it works, great, and if it doesn’t work, it creates a beautiful business school case study on where money should be placed to buy favorable media attention. This initiative kills two birds with one stone.
While other airlines are struggling with unhappy flight attendants and fuel stops, United is talking about supersonic aircraft, electric-powered jets, and new helicopters that will change the way we travel. Like I said, United’s marketing team deserves a lot of credit here as well.