United Airlines plans to use electric planes for short trips by 2030

United Airlines confirmed Thursday that it is moving forward with plans to use a fleet of 100 electric planes for short, regional trips by 2030. The first batch of planes will likely fly out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Denver International Airport, it says the CNBC(Opens in a new window).

United purchased the propeller-driven planes in 2021 from Heart Aerospace(Opens in a new window), a Swedish startup founded in 2018 focused on “the electrification of regional travel”. United also invested in Heart, along with Air Canada, which bought 30 planes(Opens in a new window) which will be operational by 2028.

The aircraft can travel 124 miles on full electric power from a lithium-ion battery. After that, they switch to a hybrid mode to complete a maximum flight of 250 miles, according to CNBC. In hybrid mode, the plane emits 50% less carbon emissions, according to Anders Forslund, founder and CEO of Heart Aerospace.

(Credit: Heart Aerospace)

The planes can be recharged in just 30 minutes, according to Forslund. Between the short flight distances and quick time to “refuel,” the planes could potentially open up travel to new routes not served by standard airlines at lower costs.

United originally planned to have the planes in service in 2026(Opens in a new window). That timeline appears to have been pushed back to 2030. Another change: the planes were originally slated to seat 19 passengers in the “ES-19” model, but will now have 30 seats(Opens in a new window) in a new model called “ES-30”.

At CNBC’s virtual ESG Impact conference(Opens in a new window) On Thursday, Mike Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures, spoke about the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions from air travel, which account for 10%(Opens in a new window) of US transportation-related emissions and 4% of total emissions.

Pie chart showing transport emissions, with air travel at 10%.

2019 US emissions from transportation, showing aviation contributes 10%. It is one of the fastest growing sources of global carbon emissions. (Credit: Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2019, EPA, 2021)

In 2019, United emitted 34,263,909 tons of greenhouse gases through jet fuel, according to the company’s most recent emissions data(Opens in a new window).

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“We cannot continue to do and operate our business the way we do. it’s imperative that we change it, and the way we’re going to change it is by investing in technology,” Leskinen said.

Smaller propeller plane.

The ‘Maker’ air taxi. (Credit: Archer Aviation)

In 2018, United committed to 100% carbon neutrality by 2050, claiming to be the first airline to do so. “To achieve this goal, we will continue to invest in fuel efficiency improvements across our fleet and across our business,” says United(Opens in a new window). “But because fuel efficiency alone will not be enough to achieve this ambitious goal, we also plan to invest in new technology, such as sustainable jet fuel that emits far less CO2 than conventional fuels on a lifecycle basis.”

In August, the Chicago-based airline invested (Opens in a new window)$10 million to California-based Archer Aviation, a company that makes tiny helicopters to transport people to airports and reduce traffic congestion.

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