Through its United Airlines Ventures (UAV) corporate venture capital fund, and alongside Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) and Mesa Airlines, the US major has invested in Heart Aerospace, which is developing the ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft that has the potential to fly customers up to 250 miles before the end of this decade.
In addition to UAV's investment, United Airlines has conditionally agreed to purchase 100 ES-19 aircraft, once the aircraft meet its “safety, business and operating requirements”. Mesa Airlines, United's key strategic partner in bringing electric aircraft into commercial service, has also agreed to add 100 ES-19 aircraft to its fleet, subject to similar requirements.
UAV is currently building a portfolio of companies that focus on innovative sustainability concepts and create the technologies and products necessary to build a carbon-neutral airline and reach United's net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goals.
With this new agreement, United is deepening its bold commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 100% by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets, as well as enabling the growth of Heart Aerospace and participating in the development of aircraft that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flying.
"Breakthrough Energy Ventures is the leading voice of investors who are supporting clean-energy technology creation. 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," explains Michael Leskinen, Vice president corporate development and investor relations at United Airlines as well as UAV's President.
UAV and BEV are among the first investors in Swedish-domiciled Heart Aerospace, demonstrating confidence in the company’s design and creating potential for Heart to fast track the ES-19 introduction to market as early as 2026.
"Aviation is such a critical piece of our global economy. At the same time, it's a major source of carbon emissions and one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise," says Carmichael Roberts at Breakthrough Energy Ventures. "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.”
By utilising electric motors instead of jet engines, and batteries instead of jet fuel, Heart's ES-19 aircraft will have zero operational emissions. Seating 19 passengers, the ES-19 aircraft will also be larger than any of its all-electric competitors and will be designed to operate on the same types of batteries used in electric cars.
Once operational, the ES-19 could operate on more than 100 of United's regional routes out of most of its hubs. Some of these routes include Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Purdue University Airport (LAF) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Modesto City-County Airport (MOD).
Once operational, Heart's ES-19 could give customers access to the convenience of flight without contributing to carbon emissions that cause climate change. "Electric aircraft are happening now – the technology is already here," says Anders Forslund CEO of Heart Aerospace.
United and UAV expect the short-haul regional air travel market to play a key role in the evolution of the electric aircraft. “As battery technology improves, larger-gauge aircraft should become viable but we're not going to wait to begin the journey," says Mr Leskinen. "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 is not the first carrier to show interest in this project. Earlier this year, Finnair signed a letter of interest with Heart Aerospace under which the airline could purchase up to 20 ES-19 commuter aircraft.