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Bill Gates' investment fund backs Swedish electric aeroplane startup

United, Mesa pre-order 200 planes

Swedish electric aeroplane startup Heart Aerospace has raised $35 million in a Series A round that includes United Airlines Ventures and Mesa Air Group -- with the two also placing purchase orders for up to 300 aircraft in a landmark move for the Scandinavian firm, which is building a 19-seat electric aeroplane, the ES-19.

Heart, which has been backed by the Swedish government and which in 2020 was also awarded a €2.5 million grant from the European Investment Council as part of the European Green Deal, says the ES-19 electric aeroplane will have a range of up to 250 miles, using today’s lithium-ion batteries. It expects that this range will increase as battery energy densities and technologies continue to improve.

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The company demonstrated its first iteration of a unique electric propulsion system in 2020; this consists of a 400kW electric motor, an electric motor controller and a battery pack with an integrated battery management system (BMS). In a conversation with The Stack's founder Ed Targett late last year, Heart Aerospace CEO Anders Forslund said the company would be targeting Europe's burgeoning short-hop flight market; clearly the US's airlines have a greater risk appetite for investment in the emerging sector.

"I can’t imagine a stronger coalition of partners to advance our mission to electrify short-haul air travel” said a delighted Forslund on July 13. “There’s United - one of the world’s largest airlines, who’s poised to be the global leader in decarbonising air travel, and there’s Mesa, the largest operator of 19-seater aircraft in history. This 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” he added in a press release.

Electric aeroplane startup Heart Aerospace raises $35 million, as airlines order 200 aircraft
An illustration of the ES-19 with United livery.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the fund established by Bill Gates, and Heart’s seed investors EQT Ventures and Lowercarbon Capital, also participated in the round.

“Aviation is such a critical piece of our global economy. At the same time, it’s a major source of carbon emissions and one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize,” said Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “We believe electric aircraft can be transformational in reducing the emissions of the industry, and enable low cost, quiet and clean regional travel on a broad scale. Heart’s visionary team is developing an aircraft around its proprietary electric propulsion technology that will allow airlines to operate at a fraction of the cost of today and has the potential to change the way we fly.”

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Michael Leskinen, United’s VP of investor relations, said: “We’re proud to partner with Mesa Air Group to bring electric aircraft to our customers earlier than any other US airliner", adding that the move was "deepening its bold commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 100% by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets."

Mesa, meanwhile, is one of the largest independent regional airlines in the USA, and has decades of experience in connecting smaller communities across America. In the 1990s, the airline was the world’s largest operator of 19-seat aircraft. Over the past 30 years, as the economics of operating 19-seat aircraft became unprofitable, operators exited markets and over 1,500 nineteen seat passenger aircraft have been retired. The company holds that the potentially sharply reduced operating costs of the ES-19 aircraft holds the promise of "revitalizing travel options that are currently not economically viable with traditional aircraft."

“We are proud to work with United and Heart to launch the world’s first electric, regional aircraft. Mesa intends to continue its expansion through the introduction of revolutionary technology that benefits our passengers and the environment. We are delighted to build upon our relationship with United through our joint investment in Heart”, said Mesa CEO Jonathan Ornstein. “These technological innovations are good for the environment, will expand the national transportation system, and provide significant growth opportunities for Mesa. We look forward to reconnecting with communities and passengers we previously served.”

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