There are hybrid electric cars, so why not hybrid electric passenger aircraft? A start-up company backed by JetBlue says new technology could revolutionize travel to smaller airports.
The company is Zunum Aero, which has funding from both Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures, the airline’s subsidiary that invests in travel-related innovation. The company is working on new 10- to 50-passenger aircraft using hybrid electric technology that could have planes in the sky within a few years, serving routes of up to 700 miles.
“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 company said.
Zunum envisions an air travel system that shifts traffic from the bottlenecks of giant hubs to one that takes advantage of under-utilized regional airports, eliminating the need for connections and/or long drives for many travelers. The company said the aircraft it is developing could serve markets of up to 700 miles by the early 2020s, and more than 1,000 miles by 2030.
“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,” Zunum said. “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.”
Besides cutting door-to-door travel times by 40 to 80 percent, the company said, its technology would reduce operating costs enough to permit a 40 to 80 percent cut in fares. It would also greatly reduce aircraft emissions and noise.
“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,” said Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures.
Zunum and JetBlue aren’t the only ones exploring new ways to power aircraft. Another U.S. start-up, Wright Electric, is in discussions with U.K.-based low-cost carrier EasyJet about the development of a battery-powered or hybrid plane that could carry 150 passengers on flights of up to 300 miles.