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Startup Backed By Boeing & JetBlue Planning To Bring Hybrid-Electric Airliner To Market By 2022

The Seattle-area-based startup Zunum Aero — backed by the venture capital arms of Boeing and JetBlue Airways — is now planning to bring a small hybrid-electric airliner to market by the year 2022, it has revealed.

This hybrid-electric aircraft will allow travel times and costs for trips under 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to be “dramatically” reduced, according to the startup. It should be noted, though, that this first aircraft (of several that are planned) will only seat up to 12 passengers at a time. It will be powered by only 2 electric motors.

The two electric motors will be supplemented by a gas engine and an electrical generator — altogether allowing for a range of around 700 miles, according to the Kirkland-based company’s co-founder and chief aeronautic engineer, Matt Knapp.

“We’re getting airline pricing down on a small plane and doing it for short distances,” Knapp explained. “That kind of aircraft doesn’t currently exist.”

Reuters provides more: “A larger plane seating up to 50 passengers would follow at the end of the next decade, and the range of both would increase to about 1,000 miles as battery technology improves, Knapp said. The planes eventually would fly solely on battery power, and are being designed to fly with one pilot and to eventually be remotely piloted, he added.

“Zunum does not expect to be the first to certify an electric-powered aircraft with regulators. It is aiming to fill a market for regional travel for airlines, where private jets and commercial jetliners are too costly for many to use…Recent advances in electric-vehicle and autonomous technology, along with lightweight electric motors and carbon composite airframes would reduce the cost of flying Zunum’s aircraft to about 8 cents per seat-mile, about one-fifth that of a small jet or turboprop plane, Knapp said.”

So, despite being an unknown (a startup), the company could perhaps capture itself a notable market share over a relatively short period of time — presuming that a company with deeper pockets doesn’t make it there first, that is.

The Reuters coverage provides a bit more: “Zunum says the plane would cruise at about 340 miles an hour and at altitudes of about 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) — slower and lower than jets. The plane would cut travel time by allowing passengers to fly from thousands of regional airports, avoiding big hubs used by major airlines and airport security required for larger planes. About 96% of US air traffic travels through 1% of its airports, Zunum said.”

An important caveat to all of this is that the company openly acknowledges that with current battery tech, only around 100 miles of all-electric travel is possible — the rest will be provided by the gas/petrol generator. So, it’ll obviously still be a while before all-electric commercial aircraft are in operation, but hybrid approaches like the one discussed above may arrive fairly soon.

Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.


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