United Airlines and its regional subsidiary Mesa Airlines will each buy up to 100 ES-19 aircraft from Heart Aerospace, an electric turboprop that hopes to transform short-haul regional flying. The acquisition comes in addition to an investment from United Ventures, United’s new corporate venture capital fund.
United Airlines Invests In Heart Aerospace ES-19 Aircraft
Heart Aerospace is developing the ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft that it hopes will fly customers up to 250 miles before the end of this decade. The new aircraft will use battery technology and motors similar to electric cars, yet still be able to accommodate 19 passengers. United plans to utilize the ES-19 on more than 100 regional routes, including:
- Chicago (ORD) ⇄ Purdue University Airport (LAF)
- San Francisco (SFO) ⇄ Modesto City-County Airport (MOD)
- United Ventures will invest an unspecified amount in the new aircraft startup
- Mesa Airlines will buy up to 100 ES-19 aircraft
- United Airlines will buy up to 100 additional ES-19 aircraft
- Both order are subject to meeting United’s “safety, business, and operating requirements”
- The ES-19 could be introduced to the market as early as 2026
Why Would United Invest In Such A Small Aircraft?
At first glance, this investment and acquisition is a head scratcher. Queue the reports about wasting taxpayer bailouts on 19-seat aircraft. If each aircraft requires two pilots and a flight attendant, how is that possibly economical?
A person familiar with the project told Live and Let’s Fly on the condition of anonymity that the cost savings with this type of aircraft are substantial. In that sense, even with added labor costs the capital acquisition costs are far better than traditional jet-powered or turboprop engines.
Michael Leskinen, United’s Vice President Corp Development & Investor Relations offers additional insight into United’s perspective surrounding this order:
“We expect the short-haul regional air travel market to play a key role in the evolution of the electric aircraft. As battery technology improves, larger-gauge aircraft should become viable but we’re not going to wait to begin the journey.
“That’s why 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.
“…[W]e 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.”
While difficult to understand the economics of this venture when no figures were disclosed, it is reasonable to assume that United’s did the math. Still, One Mile At A Time is right to question how 19-seat aircraft fit into a world of increasing airport congestion. Will these new aircraft serve Essential Air Service (EAS) routes and therefore be highly-subsidized? That seems like a spurious bet to invest in a new aircraft.
United Airlines and Mesa will purchase up to combined 200 ES-19 electric aircraft from Heart Aerospace. This 19-seat plane could be operational by 2026 and usher in a new era of regional flying in the United States, though the economics of the new aircraft are still unclear.
What are your thoughts on the United Airlines ES-219 aircraft investment?
I suggest you remove all references to turboprops in this article. The ES-19 is electric. A turboprop uses a turbine engine, burning jet fuel.
What is an electric turboprop? A turboprop is a gas turbine engine that drives a propeller, it is not electric. An electric engine doesn’t have a turbine so it is not turboprop or turbo anything. I think you guys meant an electric propeller airplane.
Under FAA rules, aircraft with less than 20 seats do not require a flight attendant. Hence, the 19 seat sizing. That said, I still don’t see the business case for such a small aircraft, given the industry wide move away from even 50 seat aircraft for being too small.
Wonderful – the future is arriving. I hope an electric plane is quieter than a jet plane….. I have an electric car and it’s great: quiet, powerful, low maintenance, handles well. The future is electric…….. and also the small matter of there is no alternate planet option for our kids.
This just like the supersonic aircraft order is a publicity stunt.
First the aircraft can’t even fly one of the listed routes (ORD-LAF) in anything but VFR weather. And then only marginally. Let’s look at the numbers. A range of 250 miles and that’s going to be an ideal number. FAA required reserve fuel (or in this case battery power) for 45 minutes at normal cruising speed. That’s 135nm out of the 250 leaving under ideal conditions 115nm of range. ORD-LAF is 104 nm which leaves 11 miles worth of range to spare for taxiing, vectors, etc. Frankly that’s not going to work. Now consider the need for an alternate in bad weather and your not even close to having enough range.
Second are battery charging times. Even with hi power dedicated chargers it’s not going to be fast. To fully charge a Tesla from a supercharger is around 40 mins. Tesla claims that their new V3 models can cut that in half. But that still leaves us at 20 mins for a car size battery. The aircraft is going to need a metric ton more power to lift 19 people which leads me to very strongly suspect charging times that will be a non starter.
Third certification. Everyone remember the 787 battery mess? Remember the very heavy solution? This is going to be a MUCH bigger battery pack and its going to doubtless represent some new technology. Considering the consequences of a battery fire we are now into a hull loss which means that there must be no more than 1 chance in a billion of a battery fire. I personally foresee a very difficult and protracted certification effort for this airplane if it even gets that far. After the MAX mess the FAA isn’t exactly eager to move an aircraft certification program along quickly especially with all new essentially untried technology.
But Kudos to United once again for finding an easy way to drum up a ton of great free press.
I would be very interested to know 1) If the construction will be in composite materials 2) how will lightning strike affect the ‘plane
@121Pilot makes some really good arguments. Since when was Scott Kirby interested in investing in something with zero tangible return in the foreseeable future?
Sorry to be a grammar geek – but your airline background is showing big time (which isn’t a put-down, merely an observation). You wrote, “Queue the reports about wasting taxpayer bailouts on 19-seat aircraft.” That particular “queue” refers to a line, and maybe that’s what you wanted. But I think the word you really want is “cue” as in sending a signal or a naturally occurring sign to do something, such as say a line in a play or begin singing or playing music after being silent for a while. As a musician, I’m very familiar with the term “cue.” Just to double-check, I did a Google search, and the definitions there align with what I’ve written here.
As for the idea behind this order, the overall airline industry trend toward up gauging will likely result in less and less service to smaller, isolated communities. It’s good to see a private sector response to this instead of forming “AmAir” to serve this market. I understand Scott Kirby and Norm Orenstein have close ties, so it isn’t surprising to see Mesa involved in this, The western U.S. has many small, remote towns. Maybe that’s another reason why Mesa, and not another regional carrier, is involved. Mesa started in Farmington, NM, a fairly remote town that can be somewhat isolated at times. I can see Sky West looking into this as well, as its headquarters is also in a relatively small, though less remote, western town. Distances in the west are often far from major cities. So, driving to the nearest large airport can be time-consuming.
Many of the “smaller and more isolated communities” could be served by buses (or, if on a railroad, trains) to the larger airport.
You raise a good point. But it’s not always quite that cut and dried. For instance, it’s a long bus ride from Farmington, NM to Albuquerque, from Nome, Alaska to Fairbanks. But for towns such as Lafayette Indiana, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, etc. bus or train service could be a viable alternative.
To the battery issue. There are alternatives. One could be to equip the aircraft with modular, rechargeable plug-in batteries, such as those found with cordless power drills. Some batteries can be charging at the maintenance facility while others are in use – just plug and play. With a modular, plug-in design, it would be possible to include additional battery capacity on the aircraft, which would function much as auxiliary fuel tanks do now. Battery technology is constantly improving. It’s quite possible that a battery may soon be available that will make this aircraft quite prectical. We’ll have to see.
This is a joke as the FAA can’t find a new place to eat in 5 years (2026). They have been 10 years simply trying to change 100LL to 100UL to burn in currently approved GA engines how many decades do you think it will take for a new concept electric….. just a PR stunt.
I’m interested in how the United Ventures investment will impact the company in relation to the 1934 Mail Act, pretty sure airlines can’t have any form of vertical integration.
Per Wendover they are very cost effective! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH4b3sAs-l8
Next up, United to buy wind powered bicycles and have the passengers pedal. Each bike will have two “pilots” and three sufficiently senior “flight” attendants.
I agree that range, or lack of range, is a huge issue when it comes to real world operations, particularly with regard to alternates. On the plus side, at least this a/c looks attractive!