Boeing And JetBlue Invest In Electric Airplane Startup

2 months ago by Mark Kane 12

Zunum Aero, backed by Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures, is developing hybrid-electric aircraft for fast and affordable travel up to 1,000 miles

Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures have placed a bet on Zunum Aero‘s hybrid-electric aircraft, plans that promise to offer both fast and more affordable travel.

Zunum Aero is a startup founded in 2013, that intends to introduce 10 to 50-seat aircraft with range of up to 700 miles (1,100 km) early in the next decade, and up to 1,000 miles (1,600 km) by 2030.

The airplanes’ propulsion systems are to be series hybrids, with some small all-electric mode that we believe are mostly utilized for take off and landings in silence.

Beside an improved fuel economy, lower emissions and quieter operation, the Zunum Aero planes could be accommodated by smaller airports, which could be a nice niche (“over 5,000 underutilized regional and general aviation airports”) for the brand.

Zunum Aero

Press blast:

Zunum Aero Developing Hybrid-Electric Aircraft for Fast and Affordable Travel Up To 1,000 Miles

Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures-backed startup offers flexible travel to thousands of communities starting in the early 2020s

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Zunum Aero, a pioneer in electric aviation, is developing regional hybrid-electric aircraft for the early 2020s, offering unmatched door-to-door speeds and reduced costs for flights from 700 miles at launch, to over 1,000 miles by 2030. Zunum Aero aircraft are designed to take aviation into the future: enabling frequent service to the nation’s network of over 5,000 underutilized regional and general aviation airports. These 10 – 50 seat aircraft will pave the way to a golden era of fast and affordable electric air travel, reversing the 70 year consolidation of air services. Zunum Aero is backed by Boeing (NYSE: BA) and JetBlue Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU); both believe that regional travel is ripe for transformation.

With multiple patented technologies already in place, Zunum Aero has designed an innovative class of hybrid-electric aircraft and is developing technologies to create a regional electric air network. These aircraft, as part of new regional electric air networks, will offer a fast, flexible and affordable alternative to highways and high-speed rail, operating point-to-point and as feeders to hub airports.

“The shift of the industry to large aircraft and long ranges driven by gas turbines has concentrated almost all air traffic to just two percent of our airports, creating a massive transport gap over regional distances where there is no high-speed alternative. As a result, door-to-door times for most journeys are no better than they were 50 years ago,” said Ashish Kumar, CEO and founder, Zunum Aero. “Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners.”

By shifting traffic from hubs to regional airports, Zunum Aero is democratizing access to fast and affordable travel. Designing aircraft for walk-on, walk-off travel from nearby airports addresses the major pain points of modern air transit while filling a vast regional transport gap. For example, passengers can expect to travel from regional airports in the Boston area to Washington, DC for half the fare and in half the time it takes today door-to-door. For those on the West Coast, Silicon Valley to the LA area drops to two and a half hours door-to-door, from over five hours today, or to Lake Tahoe in just two hours at a fraction of today’s cost. Additional estimates of impact include:

  • 40% decrease in door-to-door travel times on busy corridors, and by as much as 80% on less trafficked ones;
  • Much lower operating costs enabling fares 40% to 80% below current prices;
  • 80% lower emissions, dropping to zero over time as battery densities improve; and
  • 75% drop in community noise, opening up all-hours access to smaller airports.

Zunum Aero is three years into development with an experienced, multidisciplinary team across aircraft, aircraft engines and electric vehicle disciplines, including leaders of two flying electric vehicle programs and the leader of a NASA-funded program on drives for electric airliners.

In addition to backing by Boeing through its Boeing HorizonX innovation cell and JetBlue Technology Ventures, Zunum has a long-term partnership with the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems, an NSF Engineering Research Center at the University of Illinois, and a network of collaborators across leading Universities and government labs. The team has also been actively engaged with the FAA since 2014 to drive development of certification standards for electric aircraft. A complete set of standards for electric aircraft are expected by 2018, and the first electrics are likely to certify in 2020, in time for the first Zunum aircraft to roll off a production line.

“Boeing HorizonX is investing in Zunum because we feel its technology development is leading this emerging and exciting hybrid-electric market space. This technology and customer approach has the potential to transform the market for small, short-haul aircraft that can use smaller regional airports,” said Steve Nordlund, Vice President, Boeing HorizonX.

“At JetBlue Technology Ventures, our goal is to be part of a disruptive force rather than the one being disrupted and we seek new technologies that look to change the game,” said Bonny Simi, President, JetBlue Technology Ventures. “As a company that is also deeply committed to innovation in sustainable travel, we believe that Zunum and its quiet, environmentally-friendly aircraft will light up a vast network of underutilized airports and reinvent regional travel.”

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12 responses to "Boeing And JetBlue Invest In Electric Airplane Startup"

  1. georgeS says:

    Interesting– a series hybrid that uses all electric mode for take off and landing. Probably also electric motors in the landing gear for taxiing since large percentage of fuel is burned sitting and taxiing.

    The range extender would probably be a gas turbine to keep the wt down. Plus it could run at full load most of the time where it gets best fuel consumption.

    Cool idea. I’m jazzed up on this as I used to work in the APU biz at Honeywell.

    1. SJC says:

      We have yet to see a 50 passenger take off on only electric.

      1. JIMJFOX says:

        Pay attention- it may be sooner than you think!

        1. SJC says:

          The physics says NO. Two ducted fans do not have enough thrust and the ducts cause huge drag at cruising.

    2. Aviation insider says:

      I am a commercial pilot flying the Airbus 320 for a major airline.

      Two things:

      1) My typical taxi fuel is 400 lbs. My enroute fuel is 10,000-20,000 lbs or more. So George, how is the taxi fuel a “large percentage”.

      Plus, these hybrid planes will likely taxi on battery power using their propulsion fans, and thus burn no gas getting to the runway.

      2) I’m a huge fan of electric propulsion in general, and electric airplanes specifically. But these hybrids will be using the same gas turbines, the same fuel, and the same expensive crews. And they ain’t gonna be cheap to buy. So I’m highly skeptical of all the claims of massive ticket price and cost reductions. Airline consolidation happened for a reason – its difficult to be profitable when the customers are not willing to pay. And these people are claiming to be able to reduce ticket prices even further.

      1. SJC says:

        Ticket price reductions can not be substantiated.

  2. Todd says:

    This could be a revolution in regional travel. I currently loath flying due to the TSA at major airports, but I always enjoyed flying out my regional airport because it was so convenient and security actually worked there. They recently stopped useful flights out of that airport due to consolidation but I can see this helping the situation. It might even make flying fun again.

  3. Anthony says:

    For a long while, regional airlines were unprofitable because of high fuel prices. But as oil prices came down, I don’t know that there is the huge pressure on them anymore.

    The smallest RJs now are about 50 seats, and go up to 100. That is the market range they need to hit, at 1000nm usable range (including 45 minute reserves, etc.). That covers large parts of the US from most major hubs…

    link

    1. Anthony says:

      (I think my link got screwed up, try this)

      link

      1. SJC says:

        They had non ducted contra rotating fans in the past to save fuel. It may be time to revisit that with hybrid planes.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propfan

  4. JIMJFOX says:

    @Aviation insider

    I accept your expertise BUT- you are infused with current technology & perhaps resistant to the new? No offence, I know nothing of commercial operation.
    Electric take-off + gas turbine cruise is the exact opposite of what I’d think logical; after all, cruise from high altitude on a very slight downward flight path would require minimal energy, almost an ‘assisted glide’? Therefore quiet electric propulsion in this phase would be preferable, for these short range trips?

    I read of a proposed electric plane that used in-wheel motors to taxi & assist with take-off…

    1. SJC says:

      Turbine electric take off with electric cruise reforming jet run for fuel cells would work. They have been working on fuel cell APUs.

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