The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

United Airlines Backs Heart's Electric Regional Airliner With Investment and Provisional Order

United Airlines Ventures (UAV) and Mesa Air Group are joining Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) to invest in electric aircraft developer Heart Aerospace in a $35 million Series A funding round. The Heart Aerospace ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft under development that would fly to a range of 250 miles, will enter service before the end of the decade, according to the Swedish start-up.

Parent company United Airlines on July 13 said that, along with United Express partner Mesa Airlines, it has conditionally agreed to purchase 200 ES-19s  “once the aircraft meet United's safety, business, and operating requirements.” The two operators also hold options for another 100 of the aircraft. Earlier this year, United and Mesa announced plans to add up to 200 of Archer's four-passenger eVTOL aircraft to their fleets as part of plans to offer passengers transportation to and from major hub airports.

The commitment from the major U.S. airline group builds on a letter of interest signed by Finnair back in March. The European carrier intends to buy up to 20 of the ES-19 for use on short regional routes.

With the agreement for Mesa to take the aircraft, Heart Aerospace now has commitments covering more than 400 prospective orders with 13 airlines. Apart from Mesa and Finnair, none of the other carriers have been identified.

UAV has begun building a portfolio of companies concentrating on sustainability concepts and the creation of technologies and products needed to build a carbon-neutral airline and reach United's net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goals. United has committed to completely cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets.

Once operational, the ES-19 could operate on more than 100 of United's regional routes out of most of its hubs, the airline said. The routes include Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Purdue University Airport (LAF) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Modesto City-County Airport (MOD).  

"Breakthrough Energy Ventures is the leading voice of investors who are supporting clean-energy technology creation,” said UAV president Michael Leskinen, who also serves as United's vice president of corporate development and investor relations. “We share their view that we have to build companies who have real potential to change how industries operate and, in our case, that means investing in companies like Heart Aerospace who are developing a viable electric airliner.

Mesa, which once laid claim as the largest operator of 19-seat aircraft, completely exited the turboprop market several years ago as their economics became unviable. For example, Farmington, New Mexico, a rural community bordering the Navajo Nation, previously hosted more than 30 daily departures to seven destinations. Today, Farmington has no scheduled passenger service and few 19-seat turboprops operate in scheduled service worldwide. The reduced operating costs of the ES-19 aircraft hold the promise of reopening service to such communities, said Mesa.

“These technological innovations are good for the environment, will expand the national transportation system, and provide significant growth opportunities for Mesa,” said Mesa Air Group CEO Jonathan Ornstein. “We look forward to reconnecting with communities and passengers we previously served.”

Based in Göteborg, Sweden, Heart Aerospace anticipates delivering the first ES-19 for commercial use by 2026. The company claims the ES-19 aircraft will be quieter than its turboprop counterparts, with less vibration and noise. The low noise at taxi, take-off and landing improves the experience not just for passengers, but also for those who live close to airports.

Earlier seed investors EQT Ventures and Lowercarbon Capital also supported the Series A funding round. "I can't imagine a stronger coalition of partners to advance our mission to electrify short-haul air travel," said Heart Aerospace CEO Anders Forslund. "There's BEV–the world's most influential climate fund. There's United–one of the world's largest airlines, who's poised to be the global leader in decarbonizing air travel, and there's Mesa, the largest operator of 19-seater aircraft in history. The combination of near-term commercial viability and long-term climate investment philosophy is exactly what we need to make commercial electric air travel a reality."