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Air Canada’s next sustainability step: 30 electric aircraft

With the announcement by Air Canada that it is buying 30 ES-30 electric hybrid aircraft being dev...

ES-30 Heart AC

Air Canada is purchasing 30 electric-hybrid airplanes from Sweden’s Heart Aerospace. (Courtesy Heart Aerospace)

Air Canada has taken a key strategic step in its commitment to a more sustainable aviation industry by buying 30 ES-30 electric hybrid aircraft developed by Sweden’s Heart Aerospace AB.

The lithium-ion battery-powered planes are expected to enter service in 2028 and will be capable of carrying 30 passengers for 200 kms in all-electric mode. By equipping the aircraft with twin turbo fuel generators, that range could be extended to 400 kms, said Air Canada in a statement.

Charging time for the planes will run from 30 to 50 minutes.

Although financial details regarding the purchase were not disclosed, Air Canada did announce it had also taken a $5-million equity stake in the pioneering Swedish electric aircraft manufacturer.

“Air Canada has taken a leadership position in the industry to address climate change. The introduction into our fleet of the ES-30 electric regional aircraft from Heart Aerospace will be a step forward to our goal of net zero emissions by 2050,” said Michael Rousseau, president and CEO of Air Canada, in the announcement.

“Already, Air Canada is supporting the development of new technologies, such as sustainable aviation fuels and carbon capture, to address climate change. We are now reinforcing our commitment by investing in revolutionary electric aircraft technology, both as a customer for the ES-30 and as an equity partner in Heart Aerospace,” he added.

Expansion into regional markets

These short-haul planes are powered by lithium-ion batteries that are more cost-efficient than conventional jet aircraft engines relying on petroleum-based aviation fuel.

The new electric fleet paves the way for Air Canada to expand into regional markets and serve commuter routes that are often unprofitable for airlines due to low passenger volumes and high fuel costs.

The ES-30 will enable the Canadian air carrier to provide regular and sustainable passenger service along these routes, thereby connecting underserved local communities via low-emission aircraft.

The addition of a new, Swedish regional electric airplane into Air Canada’s domestic fleet lays the groundwork for the potential future rollout of all-electric, zero-emission global air fleets. At present, the world’s airlines account for an estimated 2.4 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

Sustainability an “absolute necessity”

Rousseau believes sustainability is an “absolute necessity” when it comes to responsible airline policy, and that his company is fully invested in a net-zero future.

He expects Heart Aerospace’s technology will be a key driver in helping Air Canada reach its 20 per cent emissions reduction goal.

“At a higher level, Air Canada has been very committed to sustainability and we’ve made a number of initiatives,” Rousseau said in remarks made on Sept. 15 as part of a Fireside Chat at the Global Aerospace Summit in Washington, D.C.

He said Air Canada had reduced its emissions by 43 per cent over the past 27 years, primarily by buying new fleets and spending $12 billion on more efficient aircraft.

Rousseau said the equity stake in Heart Aerospace is in keeping with Air Canada’s commitment to investing $50 million in carbon-capture and new aviation technologies.

“We believe in the technology, we want to be part of the technology, and we’re part of their advisory board as well to provide input to them on a go-forward basis, and again we keep looking for opportunities to invest in leading-edge companies . . . and we’re very happy to partner with Heart on this first step.”

Heart Aerospace partnership

Headquartered in Gothenburg, Heart Aerospace was founded in 2018 and currently employs a workforce of 130. The startup received seed funding from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures LLC and a $5 million investment from Saab, Sweden’s aerospace and defence industry manufacturer.

The company is led by founder and CEO Anders Forslund, who holds a doctorate in aerospace engineering. He expects the ES-30 to make its first test flight in 2026.

“Air Canada is a strategically important partner for Heart Aerospace,” Forslund said in a statement to accompany the purchase deal. “The company has one of the world’s largest networks operated by regional turboprops, and it is also a progressive, future-leaning company especially in the green transmission.

“With the ES-30 we can start cutting emissions from air travel well before the end of this decade.”

Forslund believes Heart’s new aircraft marks an important milestone in transforming fuel-thirsty jet aircraft into zero-emission carriers. Heart Aerospace previously received orders from United Airlines and Mesa Air Group in 2021 for 200 19-seater electric hybrid aircraft (the ES-19, the forerunner and compact version of the ES-30) with an additional option for 100 planes.

“The ES-30 is an electric airplane that the industry can actually use,” said Forslund. “We have designed a cost-efficient airplane that allows airlines to deliver good service on a wide range of routes.

Air Canada’s three sustainability pillars

At the Global Aerospace Summit, Air Canada’s Rousseau told the audience of leading aviation industry players there are three pillars to his company’s carbon reduction strategy.

“There’s no doubt that there’s another level to sustainability for us to hit our (emissions targets). Certainly carbon credits in the short term are (key) and SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) is something we’re working on hard, both globally and with the Canadian government and with partners in Canada.”

“But the third leg is airplane technology,” Rousseau said.

He noted Air Canada’s work with Heart, which he described as “a leader in the industry over the last little while” and has been offering advice for what is commercially attractive to Air Canada.

Rousseau was also keen to emphasize the importance of Air Canada customers, employees, and institutional investors as primary stakeholders in the sustainable course that the airline has been charting.

“Customers . . . can buy offsets and eventually can buy SAF as well . . . (Our) employees want to be part of an organization that is helping the world. And obviously investors are also interested in what we’re doing.

“Our leadership position over the last couple of decades positions us very well to continue to satisfy all those stakeholders from a sustainability perspective . . . We’re a very fluid and creative company.”

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