United Airlines, one of the world’s largest carriers, and its regional partner Mesa Air Group have committed to buying 200 electric-powered light aircraft under development by Heart Aerospace.
The Swedish company is in the final stages of bringing its 19-seater ES-19 to fruition and this month announced a new $35 million funding round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) and the two airlines.
The first-generation plane is expected to enter commercial use by 2026. Powered entirely by batteries and electric motors, the plane will have a maximum range of up to 400km (250 miles), using current-generation lithium-ion batteries. Heart says the range will increase as battery energy densities improve.
Founded in Sweden in 2018, Heart Aerospace was born from a research program run by the government-funded Swedish Innovation Agency Vinnova. The company is one of the founding members of the Nordic Network for Electric Aviation, together with airlines, airport operators, and other stakeholders across the Nordic Countries.
Last year, Heart demonstrated its first iteration of this electric propulsion system, consisting of a 400kW electric motor, an electric motor controller, and a battery pack with an integrated BMS system.
The company says the ES-19 will have zero operational emissions, and offer significantly lower operating costs compared to similar-sized gas-turbine aircraft. It will run more quietly than its turboprop rivals, with less vibration and noise.
Anders Forslund, CEO of Heart Aerospace, says the commitment to 200 aircraft orders – and options for a further 100 – represents a strong expression of faith in the aircraft.
“I can’t imagine a stronger coalition of partners to advance our mission to electrify short-haul air travel,” he said. “There’s BEV – the world’s most influential climate fund. There’s United – one of the world’s largest airlines, who’s poised to be the global leader in decarbonising air travel, and there’s Mesa, the largest operator of 19-seater aircraft in history. This combination of near-term commercial viability and long-term climate investment philosophy is exactly what we need to make commercial electric air travel a reality.”
BEV’s Carmichael Roberts says aviation is a critical part of the global economy and a major source of carbon emissions – but it remains one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise.
“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 propulsion 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.”
United Airlines sees ES-19 as a major step towards its sustainability goals
United Airlines, which has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 100 per cent by 2050 – without relying on traditional carbon offsets – believes the development of the ES19 will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flying altogether.
“Breakthrough Energy Ventures is the leading voice of investors who are supporting clean-energy technology creation,” said Michael Leskinen, United’s VP of corp development & investor relations and president of United Airlines Ventures, United’s corporate venture capital fund.
“We share their view that we have to build companies who have real potential to change how industries operate and in our case, that means investing in companies like Heart Aerospace who are developing a viable electric airliner.”
New future for 19-seater planes
The adoption of electric power for a 19-seater plane is significant in the airline industry because in recent times, operating planes of this size powered by fossil fuels have become uneconomic. More than 1500 19-seater aircraft have been retired during the past 30 years, so the reduced operating costs of the ES-19 holds the promise of revitalising travel options that are not currently economically viable using traditional aircraft.
Mesa is a regional contract flying partner of both United Airlines and its rival American Airlines, making it one of the largest independent regional airlines in the US. In the 1990s, it was the world’s largest operator of 19-seaters.
Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and CEO of Mesa, said the electric ES-19 would allow the company to reconnect with communities and passengers it served previously.”