United Airlines could be flying passengers in electric planes just five years from now.
To make it happen, the carrier’s investment arm has given backing to Sweden-based Heart Aerospace, which is developing the ES-19 aircraft, a 19-seat electric plane with a range of 250 miles.
Backing is also coming from the Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures as well as Arizona-based Mesa Airlines. The amount invested hasn’t been disclosed.
United announced this week that it has agreed to purchase 100 ES-19 aircraft, subject to it meeting the carrier’s safety, business, and operating requirements.
The ES-19 electric aircraft would be able to fly on more than 100 of United’s short regional routes out of most of its hubs, the carrier said, citing Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Purdue University Airport, and San Francisco International Airport to Modesto City-County Airport as examples. Routes beyond 250 miles are expected to become possible later on as battery technology improves.
Replacing jet fuel with electric motors powered by batteries means that Heart’s ES-19 aircraft will have zero operational emissions, a key factor for United as it seeks to add greener planes to its fleet.
While Heart has already developed some of the technologies linked to its ES-19 aircraft, it’s yet to build a functioning prototype. Despite this, United is talking of launching commercial services using the electric plane as early as 2026.
“We expect the short-haul regional air travel market to play a key role in the evolution of the electric aircraft,” said United executive Michael Leskinen, adding, “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.”
In another high-profile move geared toward shaping its future operations, United recently announced a conditional agreement to purchase 15 Overture aircraft from Boom Supersonic, which is building a Concorde-like plane capable of flying at twice the speed of today’s fastest airliners.
Boom said Overture is set to become the first large commercial aircraft that’s net-zero carbon and able to fly on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.
The Colorado-based company has developed a small-scale prototype of its aircraft that it’s planning to fly this year. If Overture’s development goes according to plan, United says it could put it into commercial service in 2029.