Ready to Island-Hop Aboard an Electric Airplane? United Airlines Just Bought It


Soon enough, we’ll be able to ditch cars for short distance travel, because a new fully-electric 19-seater airplane is making air travel more effective, more affordable and a whole lot better for the environment. United Airlines and Mesa Airlines (a Phoenix-based regional air carrier) have just purchased 200 electric airplanes from Swedish company Heart Aerospace.

It looks like 19-seaters are making a comeback, in a new and improved version. Standard ones became obsolete because they weren’t cost-effective, compared to larger passenger aircraft. But this new, all-electric version promises to change that.

Simply called the ES-19, this revolutionary aircraft is powered by an electric propulsion system consisting of a 400kW electric motor, a lithium-ion battery pack and a motor controller. Besides operating with zero emissions, the ES-19 will provide significant cost reductions.

According to Heart Aerospace, its electric motor is almost 20 times less expensive than a turboprop of the same size, and even 100 times less expensive than the cheapest turbofan on the market. Plus, maintenance costs would also be 100 times lower. With these stats, the new 19-seater looks like it could easily compete with 70-seater turboprop aircraft that have replaced old-generation 19-seaters over the years.

For now, the electric regional airplane’s range is limited to what the batteries of today can provide – in this case, a 250-mile (400 km) maximum. This is why the ES-19 will be used for short travel distance at first, on heavy-requested routes or ones that difficult to reach by car, which makes it ideal for island-hopping and flying over mountainous terrain.

Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, Heart Aerospace is a spin-off from a government-funded research project. Starting out just a couple of years ago, it has quickly developed an electric propulsion system, which is now at the heart of the ES-19. The purchase agreement with United and Mesa, for 200 electric aircraft, with the option for 100 additional ones, was part of a $35 million investment round, led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

The first ES-19 for commercial use are expected to be delivered by 2026.