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Zunum hybrid planes could disrupt airline industry
April 11, 2017, 1:18 pm

Zunum, a startup backed by Boeing and JetBlue, announced last week that it was developing regional hybrid-electric aircraft. The planes, which will have 10 to 50 seats, are scheduled for launch in the early 2020s.

With its regional aircraft, Zunum aims to democratize access to fast, affordable travel over distances of 1125-km at launch, to more than 1,600-km by 2030. Among the many advantages hybrid aircraft will offer, according to Zunum, are the following:

Decrease door-to-door travel times on busy corridors by 40 percent and cut travel time on less-trafficked corridors by 80 percent; sharply reduce operating costs, enabling ticket prices 40-80 percent below current fares; cut emissions by 80 percent, falling to zero over time as battery densities improve; and cut community noise 75 percent, enabling all-hours access to smaller airports.

 Zunum is developing technologies to create a regional electric air network that will offer an affordable alternative to highways and high-speed rail. It will operate both as a point-to-point service and as a feeder to hub airports.

Zunum has been working with the United States Federal Aviation Authority since 2014 to drive development of certification standards for electric aircraft, a complete set of which is expected by 2018. The first electrics are likely to become certified in 2020.

However, before the hybrid jet takes off, the inherent dangers of Li-ion batteries used to power the aircraft will need to be resolved.

If its plans succeed, Zunum could be a disruptive influence in the airline industry similar to what Tesla is doing to the auto industry. Zunum will also likely disrupt buses, passenger trains and even some shared ride and taxi car services. You could potentially have a fleet of these planes instead of buses to transport company employees and turn some of the parking lots into short airfields.

Interest in electric plane development has been increasing in recent years. NASA Langley researchers successfully flew a 10-engine electric plane in 2015.

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