United will potentially buy up to 100 small electric planes in new soft order

Jul 13, 2021

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United Airlines and regional carrier Mesa Airlines said on Tuesday that each will buy up to 100 electric aircraft from Swedish startup Heart Aerospace.

The agreement — which is not a firm order — came as part of an investment by United’s venture capital subsidiary, United Airlines Ventures (UAV), in the Swedish planemaker. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the alternative energy-focused VC fund founded by Bill Gates, also invested in Heart as part of the deal announced Tuesday.

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Whether the orders for Heart’s 19-seat ES-19 aircraft are ever actually delivered is far from certain. United said that the aircraft must “meet United’s safety, business and operating requirements” before any sale is finalized, and added that Mesa had implemented similar terms.

The ES-19  has a potential range of 250 miles, which, along with the small size, limits the potential ways that a larger airline or regional carrier like Mesa could use the planes. Mesa operates flights for United and American Airlines under the United Express and American Eagle brands, respectively.

Heart is targeting an ambitious 2026 debut for the plane, although it is not clear whether that target can be reached given stringent certification requirements for the new aircraft type.

“We recognize that customers want even more ownership of their own carbon emissions footprint” Michael Leskinen, a vice president at United who heads the UAV subsidiary, said in a press release. “We’re proud to partner with Mesa Air Group to bring electric aircraft to our customers earlier than any other US airliner.”

More: United Airlines announces deal with Boom Supersonic for faster-than-sound commercial flights

The deal was the latest of several similar announcements from United, which has made several high-profile investments in aviation startups, mostly skewing towards companies investing in alternative forms of fuel. In February, the airline announced a partnership with eVTOL startup Archer Aviation — the company unveiled its flying taxi design last month — and in June, United said it had invested in Boom Supersonic, which aims to design a cost-effective supersonic passenger jet that uses so-called sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

Rival airlines American and Virgin Atlantic have also announced investments in eVTOL startups, though it’s unclear exactly what timeline might prove realistic for bringing such products to market.

Featured image courtesy of United Airlines

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