Kirkland, Washington-based Zunum Aero plans to use 10-to-50 seat aircraft for regional flights for trips up to 700 miles. The company intends to begin flights early in the next decade.
By flying in and out of the vastly underused 97 percent of the 13,500 U.S. airports, Zunum passenger waiting times will be minimized and the company’s operating costs will be much lower than conventional planes at large airports. Those two factors alone could result in big wins for Zunum travelers. Boarding a Zunum plane relatively close to home should be about as easy and quick as boarding a bus at a bus station. When the company saves on operating expense, it can charge lower fares.
The cool tech part of Zunum Aero’s story is the aircraft itself. The company does not plan to use existing equipment. Instead, Zunum is developing hybrid electric planes. Zunum has been helping establish electric aircraft certification standards with the Federal Aviation Authority since 2014. This is also a good time to mention that Boeing is one of Zunum Aero’s investors, along with JetBlue Technology ventures, a subsidiary of JetBlue Airways.
“Boeing is investing in Zunum because we feel its technology development is leading this emerging and exciting hybrid-electric market space,” Boeing VP of strategy Steve Nordlund said. “This technology and customer approach has the potential to transform the market for small, short-haul aircraft that can use smaller regional airports.”
Zunum co-founder and CEO Ashish Kumar explained in a company statement that the large aircraft used by major airlines have opened the market service opportunity his company intends to fill.
“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,” Kumar said. “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.”
In addition to lower emissions and less noise in flight and during takeoffs and landings, electric-hybrid aircraft won’t have long waits for fuel trucks to arrive and laboriously pump thousands of gallons of jet fuel. A fast battery recharge or swap, reset the GPS flight path, and you’re ready to go again. Zunum says its hybrids will “sip fuel only when they have to.” As battery technologies progress, the company looks forward to the day when battery power alone will be sufficient.
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