The airline industry will have to become more sustainable over time. We’re now seeing airlines introduce additional sustainability initiatives, including in some cases offsetting flights, and committing to having more fuel efficient fleets. Beyond that we’re seeing the development of new aircraft technology, and airlines are increasingly expressing interest in electric aircraft. Here’s the latest such case.
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Finnair expresses interest in electric aircraft
Finnair has signed a Letter of Interest to acquire up to 20 of Heart Aerospace’s ES-19 aircraft. These electric aircraft each seat up to 19 passengers, and will have an all-electric range of 400 kilometers.
Heart Aerospace ES-19 aircraft
Heart Aerospace is an aerospace startup based in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the plane is currently under development, with plans for it to enter commercial service by 2026.
As Anne Larilahti, Finnair Vice President of Sustainability, describes this development:
“Finnair believes electric aviation will be one of the tools for the future of flying. It will help to promote responsible and sustainable aviation especially on short routes, in an era where climate change will increasingly dominate the agenda.
We want to be actively involved in developing and implementing new technologies which enable carbon-neutral flying.
Solving the climate challenge of flying is essential so that the social and economic benefits of aviation can continue. Many of the measures require collaboration across industries in tandem with partners playing a key role in our ongoing sustainability work.”
Finnair is committed to halving its net CO2 emissions by the end of 2025 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. In order to accomplish this, the airline is focused on improving fuel efficiency, reducing aircraft weight, combining different modes of transport, emissions trading, and sustainable aviation fuels.
This is very cool, but…
Obviously the focus on this kind of technology is awesome and commendable, and a more sustainable future for aviation is a marathon and not a race. With that in mind, I have a couple of different thoughts.
First of all, I wouldn’t read too much into the “letter of interest.” Ultimately this seems to me like a mutually beneficial publicity stunt — Finnair is showing its commitment to the environment, and it makes Heart Aerospace look good to be backed by a major airline. I doubt Finnair is putting down much of a deposit, especially in this current environment.
Beyond that, I’m not sure I entirely get how this fits into Finnair’s fleet planning?
- This plane seats at most 19 passengers, while Finnair’s current smallest plane seats 68 passengers
- While an electric plane concept is awesome, realistically how practical is it? It seems the plane has a range of 400 kilometers, so how long will it have to charge between uses, and how many markets does Finnair serve where a 19-seat plane makes sense?
- It’s great when it’s advertised that a plane can greatly reduce emissions and save money, but that comparison is only valuable when compared to a similar plane
Airbus is developing zero-emission commercial aircraft that are high capacity, and those are practical in the sense that they could actually replace existing planes.
Airbus is developing zero-emission commercial aircraft
However, some of the other initiatives we’re seeing don’t seem quite as practical. For example, United Airlines revealed that it plans to operate 200 electric air taxis. I mean, I guess that’s cool, but that doesn’t really do much to help make United’s fleet more efficient, it just means the airline is trying to expand into a new industry, and compete with the likes of BLADE, Uber, etc.
United Airlines plans to operate up to 200 electric air taxis
Similarly, I suppose that Finnair may be looking to expand into new markets that can’t currently be served, because otherwise I’m not sure how practical this would be.
Finnair has expressed interest in ordering up to 20 ES-19s, which are 19-seat electric aircraft that could enter service by 2026. It’s awesome to see technology like this being developed, though the logistics when it comes to airline operations are still a mystery to me.
19-seat planes with an electric range of 400 kilometers don’t seem to do much to replace any existing aircraft Finnair may operate, which at a minimum have roughly at least four times as much capacity.
What do you make of Finnair’s interest in these electric planes?