Swedish electric aviation startup Hart Aerospace has received its largest order ever: 200 of its inaugural ES-19 electric planes from aviation giant United Airlines and its regional airline partner Mesa Air Group.
The deal, which includes the option to purchase 100 additional aircraft, was announced alongside a $35 million Series A funding round. Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, United’s venture arm and Mesa led the round. Seed investors EQT Ventures and LowerCarbon Capital also participated.
The ES-19 is a regional airplane with 19 seats and runs on batteries and electric motors instead of conventional jet fuel. The startup says it will deliver the first aircraft for commercial use by 2026. These planes will be designed for flights of up to 250 miles based on today’s battery technology.
Hart has built a full-scale prototype of its electric propulsion system, which is the core of its technological innovation. But the company still has several steps to complete on the way to its proposed date of commercial operation. Chief among these is to actually assemble a prototype of the entire aircraft, test it and certify it with the relevant authorities in the US and Europe.
Hart’s founder, aerospace engineer Anders Forslund, said this recent funding round will go toward working with suppliers to validate the safety and reliability of the myriad other systems needed to go into aircraft, such as avionics systems, flight controls and even the all-important de-icing system. He said the company is in talks with around 50 suppliers for the remaining parts. The aviation startup is also building a massive test facility to assemble and demonstrate the completed prototype ES-19.
Hart is in a relative advantageous position compared to electric air taxis, at least with respect to regulators, as it intends to slot in with existing aviation infrastructure (no specific vertiports for the ES-19). In addition to the electric propulsion system, which is a major innovation, the company will rely on existing technology for other individual systems.
Forslund noted in an interview with ClearTips that the 2026 launch date “is not just something we have as a lofty goal that we want to parade across the Internet, but it’s also what our suppliers are working towards.” is also working towards what our Certified Officer is.”
Although the company is based in Sweden, it is likely that final assembly of at least some of the aircraft will take place in North America to fulfill orders with companies in those countries, Forslund said.
The deal with Hart is the latest electric aviation bet made by United this year. The airline also placed an order for $1 billion and invested in air taxi startup Archer Aviation in February (Forslund declined to specify the financial amount of United’s order). Orders from both Archer and Hart are conditional on certain safety and operational parameters, and both companies are at least a few years away from going to market. The investments mark the beginning of a sea change in aviation – a move already well underway in personal vehicle transport – toward low- and zero-emissions technologies.
The deal could also revive the 19-seat aircraft, which was once a mainstay of regional air travel. The aircraft type has fallen victim to unprofitable margins resulting in the retirement of more than 1,500 aircraft over the past 30 years. Regional air travel in the United States has also declined steadily since the 1990s. Mesa was once the largest operator of the 19-seater.
On its website, Hart states that smaller conventional aircraft are no longer economical when the engine cost of ownership is as high as a 19- or 70-seater. But he says his electric aircraft will change the equation. Hart claims the ES-19 electric motor is 20 times less expensive than an equivalent turboprop and will reduce maintenance costs by 100 times.
Hart was founded in 2018 out of a research project at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. The company joined Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 group after closing its $2.2 million seed in May of that year. Hart has grown to about fifty employees and shows no signs of slowing down.
“Aviation is difficult, and we want to build an aircraft that doesn’t reinvent the wheel,” Forslund said. “[We’re] Simply focusing on building an aircraft that’s electric, that’s safe, that’s efficient, and that’s reliable and that’s something airlines can find profitable to operate. “