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Air Canada, United Airlines Among First to Order New Hybrid-Electric Plane

Edward Russell

September 15th, 2022

Air Canada and United Airlines are among the first customers for a new hybrid-electric airplane from Heart Aerospace. The aircraft, named the ES-30 for its 30-passenger capacity, replaces the Gothenburg, Sweden-based planemaker’s all-electric ES-19 airplane that United first committed to last year.

“The ES-30 is an electric airplane that the industry can use,” Heart founder and CEO Anders Forslund said. “We have designed a cost-efficient airplane that allows airlines to deliver good service on a wide range of routes. With the ES-30 we can start cutting emissions from air travel well before the end of this decade and the response from the market has been fantastic.”

Air Canada has signed for up to 30 ES-30s, while United reconfirmed its commitment for up to 100 aircraft. Heart aims to deliver its first plane in 2028, or two years later than its target for the ES-19.

The orders come as the airline industry has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. Electric and hybrid-electric aircraft are seen as part of the solution to cut emissions. However, the greatest focus is on significantly expanding the availability and use of sustainable aviation fuels, which are broadly defined as ones that produce at least 50 percent less carbon emissions than their fossil fuel counterparts.

Heart’s shift to hybrid-electric technology — think a Toyota Prius but for airplanes — appears a reflection of the limits of existing battery capabilities. The size of the battery needed to power an an all-electric aircraft increases significantly as the plane gets larger, and quickly becomes too heavy for an economically feasibly airliner. However, hybrid-electric technology allows for a smaller battery that can be supplemented by a traditional internal combustion engine.

The airframer’s hybrid-electric technology will be able to be used in-flight to allow for additional range on the ES-30, as well as to meet fuel reserve requirements. The proposed aircraft will be able to fly 200 kilometers (125 miles) under solely electric power, or 400 kilometers using the hybrid-electric technology.

“Heart’s exciting new design – which includes expanded passenger capacity from 19 to 30 seats, and a state-of-the-art reserve-hybrid engine – is the type of revolutionary thinking that will bring true innovation to aviation,” United CEO Scott Kirby said.

The size and range of the ES-30 mean the aircraft could be used on existing airline route networks. For example, the additional range would make nonstop flights between New York and either Boston or Washington, D.C., possible for the aircraft. This differs from the rapidly expanding electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, air taxi market that aims to replace ground-based trips to the airport with flights.

The ES-30s “are well, well positioned to replace existing planes to fly to small markets by the end of the decade,” Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aerospace Summit on Thursday.

Heart is not alone building an electric, or hybrid-electric, airliner. Eviation is developing the all-electric Alice that would seat nine passengers for regional airlines. Cape Air already has commitments for the Alice that Eviation aims to certify by the middle of the decade. And Surf Air Mobility and Southern Airways Express want to be first to market with retrofitted hybrid-electric Cessna Caravans in 2024 or 2025.

Heart, in keeping with the ES-30’s sustainable bonafides, said the internal combustion components on the plane will run entirely on sustainable aviation fuel. However, the planemaker said nothing about the availability of the sustainable fuels, which today are available in very limited supplies and in only select locations.

The EU and U.S. are moving forward with programs aimed to kickstart the sustainable aviation fuel industry. European authorities aim to create a market for the fuels by mandating that 2 percent of all aviation fuel in the bloc be sustainable by 2025, 6 percent by 2030, and on up to 85 percent by 2050. The U.S., by contrast, is taking the carrot approach with tax incentives for sustainable fuel production.

In addition to Air Canada and United, Heart has letters of intent for the 96 ES-30s from Braathens Regional Airlines, Icelandair, SAS, and New Zealand’s Sounds Air, as well as Swedish lessor Rockton.

Air Canada and Saab have also both invested $5 million in Heart. Last year, United’s private equity arm United Airlines Ventures, along with Mesa Airlines and a clutch of other investors, participated in a $35 million Series A fundraising round by the airframer.

Updated with comment from Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau.

Edward Russell

September 15th, 2022

Photo credit: An Air Canada Heart ES-30 hybrid-electric aircraft. Air Canada

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