Thursday, July 15, 2021

United Airlines to acquire 100 electric planes


From ClimateCrocks

United Airlines on Tuesday said it will buy 100 ES-19 aircraft from the Sweden-based electric aircraft startup Heart Aerospace. 

The Chicago carrier will invest an undisclosed amount in the new airplanes, which must first meet United’s safety, business and operating requirements.

Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures will also invest an undisclosed amount as will Arizona’s Mesa Airlines, which will add 100 ES-19 aircraft to its fleet.

“Electric aircraft are happening now—the technology is already here,” CEO of Heart Aerospace Anders Forslund said in the release. “We couldn’t be prouder to be partnering with United, Mesa and BEV on taking our ES-19 aircraft to market. I can’t imagine a stronger coalition of partners to advance our mission to electrify short-haul air travel.”

The ES-19, a 19-seat electric airplane, has the potential to fly customers up to 250 miles. 

The ES-19 will be larger than its all-electric competitors and will operate on the same types of batteries used in electric cars.  By using electric motors instead of jet engines, and batteries instead of jet fuel, Heart’s ES-19 aircraft will have zero operational emissions.

The ES-19 could hit the market as early as 2026.

From Heart Aerospace's website:

Electric aircraft have zero emissions and offer a comfortable, quiet flight experience. The significantly reduced direct operating costs also enable electric aircraft to develop new routes, or restore legacy routes, that were not profitable with gas turbine powered aircraft. This offers a unique opportunity to improve regional air mobility and connectivity for everyone.

The ES-19 is much quieter than any fossil-fuel aircraft, and the engine vibrations that can be felt on smaller aircraft are virtually eliminated. The aircraft is fully fly-by-wire, and actively compensates for turbulence, ensuring a smoother ride in all weather conditions. The all-metal fuselage is fully pressurised.

Our first-generation aircraft will have a maximum range of up to 400 km (250 miles), which will increase as battery energy densities improve.

Our electric motor is about 20 times less expensive than a similarly-size[d] turboprop, and about a 100 times less expensive than the cheapest turbofan. More importantly, maintenance costs are more than 100 times lower. These lower operating costs will make 19-seater electric aircraft competitive to 70-seater turboprop aircraft. 

Air travel contributes to about 2% of global CO2 emissions, and emissions are growing exponentially at a rate of about 5% a year. Some analysts predict that by 2050, about 25% of global CO2 emissions will come from aviation alone. Fossil-fuel aircraft also emit NOx, soot, water vapour and other  greenhouse gases. According to recent studies, the overall effect of these emissions can be triple of those of CO2 alone.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, it is unlikely that we will be able to cross the Atlantic on battery-powered passenger planes any time soon. However, electric aircraft will play an important role in decarbonising short-haul air travel. 

About 9% of global emissions [from air transport] are from routes under 400 km, which we believe we can start to address already by the middle of this decade. Our long term goal is to electrify all short-haul travel, i.e. all trips under 1300 km, by the year 2050. Today, these trips account for about 33% of global emissions. The total emissions from air travel is expected to rise to 2.8 Gigatons by 2050.

Electric aircraft will not be viable for long-haul routes anytime soon, and therefore, it is only part of the solution for decarbonising air travel. Hydrogen and biofuels can be looked to for these applications.

However, what sets electric aircraft apart are the unit economics. Whereas biofuels today are much more expensive than fossil fuels, and hydrogen aircraft would require a whole new infrastructure and operations, electric aircraft present a major cost advantage to airlines. Further, the ubiquity of the electricity network makes it relatively easy for airports to install chargers.

The ES-19 is designed to be an electric STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft  It is designed to operate from runways as short as 750m and will have steep approach capability.

Charge time is largely dependent on the available charging infrastructure but with the recommended charging, we can charge an ES-19 in less than 40 minutes for an average mission.

Heart’s ES-19 will have a similar acquisition price and offer direct operating costs (energy and maintenance) 50 – 70% lower than competing fossil fuel powered aircraft. In the full aircraft context, battery acquisition costs are less than 2% of the aircraft price. This is very different to road EV’s where batteries comprise about 30% of the car cost. Battery cycle amortisation costs are less than 10% of the ES-19s direct operating cost.

Battery costs have fallen by almost 10x since 2010. According to the latest forecast from research company BloombergNEF (BNEF), “Battery prices, which were above $1,100 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, have fallen 87% in real terms to $156/kWh in 2019. By 2023, average prices will be close to $100/kWh.” BNEF cites a longer term forecast of batteries costing $61/kWh by 2030.

In our direct operating costs-model, we assume 1000 cycles [battery life]. This is a slight increase from the electric aircraft certified today – the Pipistrel Velis Electro – which has a cycle life of 800 cycles. However, we do think it’s achievable to reach 3000 cycles, or even more, depending on the specific route. Even so, if an aircraft is used ten times a day, batteries will need to be replaced on a yearly basis.

Meanwhile, long-distance flights may well be carried out using suborbital Starship, fuelled with green methane, produced by the Sabatier process, and small short-range electric planes will be used to fly people to the spaceport.

See this related article:

Mesa Airlines has also signed up for 100 electric planes

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