Heart beating the green premium
If there is a large premium attached to a sustainable solution, it may attract some wealthy early adopter countries like Sweden, Norway and the US.
But if you really want to make an impact on the climate you need to create something that middle-income countries of the world can afford.
Revolution.Aero spoke to Heart Aerospace’s CEO, Anders Forslund, to find out what the Swedish electric aviation pioneer is doing to beat the green premium and begin building, operating and selling all-electric regional aircraft.
“I think that affordability is what sets battery-electric apart from, for example, SAF [sustainable aviation fuel] and hydrogen,” says Forslund.
The affordability of electric motors has been a primary marketing tool for electric aircraft makers seeking investment. The motors to be used in Heart’s ES-30 aircraft (pictured below) will be at least one order of magnitude lower in cost than a combustion engine found in a typical 50-seat regional turboprop, says Forslund. And with maintenance much-reduced. The bearings, for example, are being designed to last the lifetime of the aircraft.
There is no list price for the ES-30 and the company is not disclosing numbers. Forslund says it will be cheaper than a 50-seat turboprop, but likely more expensive than its conventional 30-seat counterpart (to buy at least).
“So, we really have that simplicity of design, our aircraft really work like drones do. Obviously, there are layers to that – certification, hardware, software. But from a principles perspective, this is a much simpler product than a combustion aircraft,” says Forslund.
Electric aircraft can also ride on the coattails of the automotive industry. Battery technology has improved “massively” over the past decade, whilst costs have come down almost 10-fold. Forslund thinks those factors leave a path open to economies of scale which only exist right now for aircraft like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. “It is not a question of if electric aircraft takeoff, but when and how fast can we do it?” he adds.
Founded in 2018, Heart joined Y Combinator’s 2019 winter cohort after closing a $2.2m seed round the previous May. Forslund says he is 100% sure he would not be where he is today without his experience in the cohort. Heart Aerospace has now disclosed 11 investors across three rounds including Saab, Air Canada, United Airlines Ventures and Mesa Air Group, totalling about $40m. Forslund is clear that Heart is not simply an R&D project. “We’re not just focusing on demonstrating technology, we are focusing on airline relationships. How do we support these aircraft when they’re in service? How do we build a personal contact with our suppliers? How do we deal with airlines?”
Forslund says Heart is one piece of the puzzle. “We’re the ones building the aircraft. But all the other pieces have to come together also. If we want to get to net zero by 2050, this is going to have to happen a few times over. Stakeholders are learning to work together to deliver to the consumer.”
Revolution.Aero has reported numerous dates for certification from as early 2024 right through to 2035. Many of these, especially in the AAM sector, have been met with cynicism for being unduly optimistic, so how did Forslund and his team come to settle on 2028?
Firstly, construction on Heart’s HQ, test and manufacturing facility, Northern Runway (pictured above), in Gothenburg, Sweden, is due to begin next year. When completed the facility has a planned output of up to 120 aircraft per year. The first phase of construction – offices, test and assembly facility – is due for completion in 2024 with test flights commencing in 2026. Giving Heart a two-year testbed timeframe.
“But you don’t go on day one and make 120 aircraft, there is a ramp up process,” says Forslund. “My background has always been aerospace part development. Manufacturing is key to cost and cost is key to getting that fly wheel moving and I think the sooner in the process we think about those things the better.”
If progress is measured as the number of iterations multiplied by progress of each and every iteration, then to reach net zero by 2050 it is not enough to have one iteration of an aircraft, concludes Forslund. “What we can do is have this aircraft already flying in the 2020s, learn on that and have that be a platform for future innovation.”