Boeing and Jet Blue back Zunum Aero, startup developing hybrid electric aircraft; focus on regional airports
Startup Zunum Aero, founded in 2013, is developing regional hybrid-electric aircraft for the early 2020s. Zunum is targeting 700 miles of range at launch to more than 1,000 miles by 2030. Zunum Aero intends for its 10- to 50-seat aircraft to enable frequent service to the nation’s network of more than 5,000 underutilized regional and general aviation airports. Zunum Aero is backed by Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of JetBlue Airways.
Zunum estimates that its hybrid aircraft will deliver 80% lower emissions, dropping to zero over time as battery densities improve, along with a 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 (POETS), which is an NSF Engineering Research Center at the University of Illinois, and a network of collaborators across leading Universities and government labs.
POETS’ long-term goal is to increase the power density of current mobile electrified systems by 10-100 times over current state of the art systems. POETS’ approach is to integrate traditionally separate research efforts in mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering. Three interdisciplinary thrusts—optimization and control, system design and analysis, and materials and fabrication—coordinate the research activities.
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.
Zunum Aero expects that its hybrid-electric aircraft will enable the creation of a new regional electric air network, offering 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. Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners.—Ashish Kumar, CEO and founder, Zunum Aero
Zunum Aero estimates that its aircraft, designed for walk-on, walk-off travel from nearby airports, will enable reduce fares and travel times. Estimates of impacts include:
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.
Silicon Valley to the LA area drops to two and a half hours door-to-door, from more than five hours today.
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.