Zunum’s Hybrid-Electric Plane to Hit the Market in 2022

Andre Parker October 06, 2017
Zunum’s Hybrid-Electric Plane to Hit the Market in 2022

Zunum Aero, a suburban Seattle-based startup, said that millions of people can expect to fly on the hybrid electric planes it plans to roll starting 2022.

The startup is backed by the venture capital arms of Boeing Co and JetBlue Airways Corp. It is planning to launch several planes, including the small hybrid electric airline that can seat up to 12 passengers. The airliner, which will be powered by two electric motors, is expected to tremendously reduce the time spent on traveling and the cost of the trip under 1,000 miles (equivalent to 1,600 kilometers).

“By the time this aircraft is in the air in early 2020 everyone will have ridden in an electric bus,” said Ashish Kumar, who is Zunum Aero’s chief executive officer. Kumar believes that due to its familiarity, flying a hybrid plane will be a welcome change or innovation for charter plane operators and companies.

This can be considered as one of the latest additions to the race to develop electrified aircrafts based on the speedy development of battery technology and artificial intelligence systems, which attempt to avoid transportation-related inconveniences.

An official starting price is anticipated to be given in the next couple of years, although reports suggest that the first Zunum Aero will likely sell at more or less $3 million.

“Our operating costs are about 60-90 percent lower than that of comparable turboprops and business jets,” said Kumar. “On shorter legs the costs are below what a regional jet would be.”

Kumar also claimed that both issues regarding the weight and cost of lithium-ion batteries are moving at progressive rates, adding that world of aviation is already braced for a new propulsion system that he estimates to have around 80 percent lower emissions and be impressively quieter than comparable engines.

However, Zunum does not expect to be the first business to certify an electrified aircraft with regulators. It is instead aiming to fill a market gap for airlines that conduct regional travels, where private jets and commercial airliners are too expensive for mass use.

“Airlines are very keen to know how to fly a shorter distance and make money on it,” said Matt Knapp, who is a co-founder and the chief aeronautic engineer.

Although Zunum maintains no commitment with both Tesla Inc and Panasonic Corp, the startup’s electrified aircraft will be powered by the batteries made by the two tech giants. Knapp said that there would be a jet-fuel engine and electrical generator that would be supplemental for the plane to reach a range of 700 miles, while ensuring that it stays aloft even after the batteries are exhausted.

Moreover, Zunum plans to build an enlarged version of the aircraft that will seat up to 50 passengers at the end of the next decade, and it also has plans of increasing the range both planes to about 1,000 miles as battery technology further improves.

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

Zunum first announced its plans for the hybrid-electric aircraft last April. Last Thursday, it disclosed the specifications and timetable of the entrance of the vehicle to the service.

“This is the first time in 70 years that you actually get a dramatically new propulsion system entering the business,” said Kumar.

Meanwhile, other technological startups and well-established companies are also working on electric-powered self driving vehicles. Additionally, last month, a German startup called Lilium said that it has been working on a five-seater “flying taxi.”


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Andre Parker

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