Mark Wahlberg’s 40-minute private jet flight from Las Vegas to California is equal to 4 tons of carbon emissions, or rather the average CO2 footprint of one person… annually. Drake’s 18-minute flights, on the other hand, from Hamilton, Ontario to Tornoto, also in Ontario, equates to 5 tons, toppling Wahlberg.
These less-than-an-hour private flights leave a massive carbon jet stream, but what if these planes were electric?
Private jets are responsible for around 4% of all aviation emissions, according to a 2016 study, producing 33.7 million metric tons. That’s more than the entire nation of Denmark emits in a year.
Short-haul commercial flights, on the other hand, are responsible for just 1-2% of aviation emissions. While many airline decarbonization efforts have sights set on hours-long flights, Swedish electric plane startup Heart Aerospace is targeting short regional travel. Why? Well aside from electrifying celebrities’ private jet usage, it also makes up for the tradeoffs that happen when airlines stop short-haul flights.
According to Sifted, a European tech publication published by Financial Times, many European airlines cancel flights that range less than 500 kilometers (km) because they don’t make much money off of them. On top of the cancelations, countries like France and Japan are working to ban short-haul flights in an effort to curb the unnecessary emissions from private jets and other minutes-long flights.
However, France’s ban only makes a difference for the environment if trains can make the trips otherwise fulfilled by planes. When there isn’t a rail alternative, the difference is made up by cars… which have more emissions especially when solo traveling.
Heart Aerospace is taking the issue of short-flight emissions to heart and by 2028, the startup says their 30-seat all-electric plane will take to the skies. To date, the startup has raised $100 million in funding.
Back in 2o20, the company was focused on building a small, 19-seater plane. Now with big names on board like United Airlines, Mesa Airlines, Air Canada, and Bill Gates’ venture fund Breakthrough Energy, they have an even bigger goal.
According to the startup, the 30-seat plane will fly 200 km, creating an emissions-free jet that they hope even Greta Thunberg would fly. To put that into perspective, it would be just enough to fly from NYC to Philly all while emitting nothing.
Already, the company has 230 planes ordered from airlines in the US and Canada, however, they’re still vying for more funding, as they only have a tenth of the capital needed to fulfill the fleet of orders.
Heart Aerospace isn’t the only company making flights electric. Airbus is already on the electrification journey, Australia’s Dovetail Electric Aviation was recently granted $3 million for their electric conversions, and Brazil’s Embraer also has plans to build electric planes the same size as Heart. Even NASA is getting in on the electric plane revolution.
Other ventures are using alternative energies like hydrogen and batteries to decarbonize air travel. While some like ZeroAvia, which is deploying hydrogen-electric planes, believe their route is the best path toward zero-emissions travel, Heart believes going just electric is the key to decarbonizing short-haul.
According to Aerospace Heart’s cofounder Anders Forslund, hydrogen may be “hot” right now, but it doesn’t solve the problem of short-distance air travel, which needs to be cheaper than a regular flight today to make sense.
While an electric plane currently costs far more than an electric bus to make, Forslund believes that considering they use the same materials as electric buses, Heart can get their cost down.
While many places are moving to ban or tax short domestic flights, Norway, a country about the size of California, is embracing them. There are more than 50 airports in Norway and planes even go to super remote locations like the country’s islands, earning Norway the most flights per capita in all of Europe.
Essentially one can fly anywhere in Norway, and due to the complex geography of fjords and mountains, the country needs short flights more than flatter countries or celebrities flying across North American states.
While that adds up to a lot of emissions, doubling the global average of aviation emissions, Norway promises that by 2040, each and every one of these flights will be electric. They will need companies like Heart Aerospace to get them there.
“We are not saying that we can become as cheap as a bus, but if we can go from 50 times more expensive to 10 times more expensive, then the market has suddenly changed,” Forslund said. “When we are able to cut the costs [of manufacturing] then we can open up air travel so that the whole world can be like Norway.”