Plans for the first electric airliner took a step forward as Swedish start-up Heart Aerospace swelled its design to 30 seats, announced a factory site and won investment from Saab, maker of the Gripen fighter.
Heart has also secured Air Canada as a shareholder, with the carrier placing an order for 30 of the enlarged ES-30 aircraft. That model replaces the original 19-seat blueprint and is slated to begin deliveries in 2028.
Construction of offices, test centres and a production line on a campus at Save airport outside Gothenburg should be completed by mid-2024, with initial flights due in 2026, Heart said on Thursday in a briefing at the site. The workforce should swell from 130 people to around 500 over three years.
Anders Forslund, Heart’s founder and chief, said the new shareholders will bolster the push for all-electric flight, with Saab “synonymous with aerospace” and Air Canada “a strategically important partner with one of the world’s largest networks operated by regional turboprops”.
Heart’s is one of a handful of projects competing to bring an electric passenger plane to market by the end of the decade. While proposals for so-called flying taxis, carrying only a few people, are more numerous and aim to be airborne within a few years, Heart is seeking to develop a fully fledged aircraft that would play a role in mainstream air travel.
Performance and weight limitations from battery propulsion impose a limit on range, so the ES-30 will be able to fly only 200 kilometres (124 miles) with a full load, extending to 400 kilometres in hybrid mode, aided by aviation fuel, and 800 kilometres if capacity is capped at 25 passengers.
That makes it well suited to services on routes known in the aviation industry as short and thin, linking smaller settlements which, while not so far apart, have limited surface-transport links, often due to geographical factors such as mountain ranges and sea passages. Scandinavia and Canada are among the biggest markets for the regional planes that ply such routes.
Mr Anders said that Heart’s new facilities, known as Northern Runway, will establish a “whole new industry” in Sweden, a country at the forefront of changing societal attitudes towards air transport as concerns around global warming prompt people to rethink their travel habits.
“Sweden is the origin of flight shame, an anti-flying movement, but with the Northern Runway we will make electric air travel a reality and preserve flying for future generations.”
Saab, Sweden’s biggest aerospace company and a former maker of regional aircraft, and Air Canada will each invest $5 million for minority stakes in Heart.
The company said prior orders from United Airlines and Mesa Air Group for 200 19-seat ES-19s, now dropped, will be converted to the ES-30. Letters of intent from airlines including Nordic operators SAS, Braathens Regional Aviation and Icelandair have also been updated to the bigger planes, while Swedish lessor Rockton has signed an LOI for up to 40 planes.