US-based United Airlines has announced plans to purchase 100 electric planes from Swedish start-up Heart Aerospace that are expected to take to the skies as early as 2026.
United Airlines Ventures (UAV) says it has invested in Heart Aerospace, along with Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and said it has conditionally agreed to purchase 100 of the company’s ES-19 electric aircraft.
Mesa Airlines, an American regional airline and United’s key strategic partner in bringing electric aircraft into commercial service, has also agreed to add 100 ES-19 aircraft to its own fleet.
The conditionality of the acquisition is reliant upon the ES-19 aircraft meeting both United and Mesa’s safety, business, and operating requirements.
Heart Aerospace’s ES-19 is a 19-seat electric aircraft that will be able to fly up to 400-kilometres – and then further as battery energy densities improve. It is expected to be certified for commercial flight by 2026.
According to Heart Aerospace, around 4% of global emissions are from routes under 200 km, and 9% of global emissions are from routes under 400 km, so short-haul passenger flights such as will be capable with the ES-19 could very well result in significant benefits.
In the case of United Airlines, the ES-19 could operate on more than 100 of the airline’s regional routes out of most of its hubs – including routes from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Purdue University Airport (LAF) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Modesto City-County Airport (MOD).
“We expect the short-haul regional air travel market to play a key role in the evolution of the electric aircraft,” said Michael Leskinen, United’s Vice President Corp Development & Investor Relations, as well as UAV’s President.
“As battery technology improves, larger-gauge aircraft should become viable but we’re not going to wait to begin the journey. That’s why we’re looking forward to beginning our work with Heart, so that, together, we can scale the availability of electric airliners and use them for passenger flights within the next five years.”
United Airlines’ investment in Heart Aerospace is part of the company’s focus on building a portfolio of companies that will be necessary to building a carbon-neutral airline, supporting United’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets.
“Aviation is such a critical piece of our global economy,” said Carmichael Roberts, from Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “At the same time, it’s a major source of carbon emissions and one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize.
“We believe electric aircraft can be transformational in reducing the emissions of the industry, and enable low cost, quiet and clean regional travel on a broad scale.
“Heart’s visionary team is developing an aircraft around its proprietary electric motor technology that will allow airlines to operate at a fraction of the cost of today and has the potential to change the way we fly.”