Hybrid takes flight
Start-up watch: The future of air travel is small-scale and electric, reckons Zunum Aero. The transport outfit it has identified opportunity in the underutilised capacity of local airports in the US and is now busy developing regional hybrid-electric aircraft for deployment in the early 2020s.
The company reckons its 10-to-50 seat planes will usher in a period of cheap electric air travel, with the technology enabling it to compete with the sector’s big players.
Zunum Aero is looking to bus travel as a model and reckons its planes will be able to compete effectively with both road and rail alternatives. The aircraft will be designed for simple walk-on, walk-off travel from local airports used to fill regional transport gaps.
And that stock of airports is large at 13,500 locations across the US. Yet, according to Zunum, just 140 of the largest hubs carry over 97% of air traffic.
The company says its model will deliver lower operating costs enabling fares 40% to 80% below current prices. There will also be 80% lower emissions, dropping to zero over time as battery densities improve, and a 75% drop in community noise, which opens up all-hours access to smaller airports.
"Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners,” says Ashish Kumar, Zunum Aero CEO.
The outfit’s argument is proving persuasive. The company is backed by Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures, a unit of JetBlue Airways, which have both bought into the notion that regional travel is ripe for transformation.