Airline and Airplane Builder Make Investments
In Start-Up That Would Wean Planes from Fuel,
Changing the Very Nature of Regional Air Travel
Boeing and JetBlue have invested in Zunum Aero, a Kirkland, Wash.-based startup that’s developing ten- to 50-passenger series hybrid electric airplanes with an eye to eventual all-electric operation for routes up to 1,000 miles.
Zunum technology could “pave the way to a golden era of fast and affordable electric air travel,” states a JetBlue Technology Ventures release, “reversing the 70-year consolidation of air services.”
“The shift of the industry to large aircraft and long ranges driven by gas turbines has concentrated almost all air traffic to just 2% of our airports, creating a massive transport gap over regional distances where there is no high-speed alternative,” Zunum founder and CEO Ashish Kumar says in a JetBlue release.
‘An Industry-Changing Solution’
“As a result,” he said, “door-to-door times for most journeys are no better than they were 50 years ago.”
“Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners,” Kumar says.
Electric drive is the key.
“Our hybrid is a ‘plug-in series’ architecture,” says Zunum marketing chief Sandi Adam. “The fans are driven by electric motors; batteries supply some of the electrical power, and an engine turning a generator supplies the rest.
Phasing Out the Fuel Engine – and Cutting Fares
“As batteries improve,” she told F&F, “the engine is used less and less – on short flights, it would be reserve-only.”
As for the fuel engine, “We’re looking at a range of,options,” she says. “For the initial product we expect to have either an existing aviation gas turbine, or turbo diesel piston engine, either of which will burn Jet-A.”
According to JetBlue, “By shifting traffic from hubs to regional airports, Zunum Aero is democratizing access to fast and affordable travel.”
Regional fares, the airline says, could drop “40% to 80% below current prices,” while emissions could drop “to zero over time as battery densities improve.”
Boeing, which has established an innovation cell dubbed Boeing HorizonX with Zunum an initial funding recipient, says the e-plane technology has “potential for performance and efficiency improvements in a range of aerospace applications.”
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Source: Boeing & JetBlue with Fleets & Fuels follow-up