United Airlines has placed a conditional order for 100 electric aircraft, which it hopes will be ready to enter service in just five years time.
United Airlines Ventures (UAV), United’s venture capital fund, has partnered with Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) and Mesa Airlines to invest in Heart Aerospace, which is developing the 19-seat aircraft.
The ES-19 will have a range of around 250 miles by the end of the decade, and United hopes to deploy the aircraft on its US domestic network, "enabling low-cost, quiet and clean regional travel on a broad scale".
Mesa, United’s strategic partner for bringing electric aircraft into commercial service, has also agreed a conditional order for 100 ES-19 aircraft, subject to similar requirements to United.
United said UAV would continue to build a portfolio of companies focusing on the "innovative sustainability concepts" it believes will underpin carbon-neutral flying. United has committed to reducing emissions from its operations by 100% by 2050 without resorting to offsetting.
Michael Leskinen, UAV president, said United had acknowledged the trend towards passengers wanting "more ownership" of their carbon emissions footprint, and said it had acknowledged the firm’s decision to invest in companies like Heart which are developing "viable electric airliners".
UAV and BEV said their early investment in Heart, among that of others, would "create potential for Heart to fast-track the ES-19 introduction to market as early as 2026".
"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," said BEV’s Carmichael Roberts.
"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."
The ES-19 uses electric motors rather than jet engines, and batteries instead of jet fuel. Once operational, United said it could operate on more than 100 of its regional routes, including Chicago O’Hare to Purdue University and San Francisco International to Modesto City-County, and fly from most of its hubs.
Leskinen added: "We 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.
"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."