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Western countries need to offer more subsidies to encourage airlines to switch to electric planes, says a leading zero-emissions plane start-up.
Anders Forslund, chief executive and co-founder of Sweden’s Heart Aerospace, said airlines were often too focused on short-term profitability, requiring governments to emulate Norway – which plans to Electrify all domestic flights.
“Governments are the ones who set the rulebook,” Forslund told the FT. “There has to be an economic incentive for airlines to take this leadership role. It needs a push and it needs to be done now.”
Heart, a start-up based in Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast, is developing a 30-seat regional airliner due to be delivered in 2028 and has already received orders from United Airlines and Mesa Airlines in the US, as well as Air Canada. Canada) received a formal order for 230 aircraft. Other airlines, including Scandinavian airlines Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Brason Airways (BRA) and Icelandair, have signed letters of intent to buy the aircraft. Air Canada and Swedish defense company Saab also became shareholders in the company last September.
Heart recently changed plans, moving from a 19-seat all-electric aircraft to a larger hybrid aircraft that would use sustainable aviation fuel to power its emergency backup system. Compared with using only batteries, this design can extend the range from 200 kilometers to 800 kilometers.
Fosslund noted that public service authorizations in the U.S. and Norway are necessary to help develop such an electric regional airliner.
“The reason it works in Norway is because of the subsidies. The fact that they are well-funded means they can afford to pay a premium, as they do in electric cars,” he said, referring to Tesla’s The success of the Model S has allowed the electric automaker to develop the less expensive Model 3.
Heart not only touts its plane’s zero-emissions potential, but also claims the plane will be quieter when it takes off and lands. The company believes battery technology will allow it to fly 400 kilometers with zero emissions and 600 kilometers with a hybrid backup system by 2040, while its 2050 goal is to fly 1,500 kilometers and capture two-thirds of take-off emissions and one-third of aviation emissions.
The company believes that since electric aircraft require less maintenance, their total cost of ownership should be lower than conventional aircraft.
According to Foslund, a “significant portion of the center of gravity” of the nascent industry is shifting to the U.S. thanks to the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which heavily subsidizes green technology.
“We are somewhat expecting a response from Europe,” he said, pointing to countries such as Denmark and Iceland as attractive markets due to renewable energy and relatively short routes.
Ultra-high safety standards and relatively long flight distances mean aviation is considered one of the more difficult sectors to achieve zero emissions. Companies ranging from Airbus and BP to Rolls-Royce are experimenting with different technologies such as hydrogen, battery power and sustainable aviation fuel.
All three technologies are likely to be needed to decarbonize air travel, according to Forslund, and the risk of chasing the perfect technology is “being caught in an endless loop of research and development.”
“Overall, the problem is not too much, too soon, but too little, too late,” he said. “You need urgency.”
He added: “How do we, as airlines, nations and policymakers, achieve this transformation? It will require a combination of existing players, suppliers and industry partners, as well as new start-ups. The industry needs to reinvent itself .”