The future of American domestic flight could be electric — or, at the very least, a hybrid.
Aviation startup Zunum Aero emerged from stealth mode and announced a bold plan to bring hybrid-electric plane travel to the United States on a large scale.
The company has been operating under the radar for the past three years and debuts with a number of patents already in place. It also has the backing of two major names in the aviation industry: Boeing and JetBlue.
Zunum says it plans to build hybrid-electric aircraft with 10 to 50 seats that could travel up to 700 miles at launch in the early 2020s, with the potential to reach ranges of over 1,000 miles by 2030. The planes could create new routes, cut fares, and cut down travel times, along with the obvious environmental benefits of a hybrid vehicle.
The hybrid planes are only part of Zunum’s plans to shake up domestic air travel. The company will look to take advantage the country’s vast number of underused small airports to build a new system of short, regional routes.
That could do more than just provide quick flights to smaller airports — Zunum’s team believes its plan could drive down costs, too. “Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Ashish Kumar, in a statement. The company estimates that lower overhead costs could cut fares at rates from 40 to 80 percent below current prices.
Zunum will need to go through the proper channels to get its planes off the ground, and the company claims it’s been “actively engaged” with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 2014 to push for official certification standards for electric aircraft, since there are none currently on the books. The company expects that could happen by 2018, with a 2020 target date for official certification.
Zunum’s hybrid-electric plane system and other projects underway, like Boom’s supersonic passenger jet plan, could radically change our trips to the airport. For now, though, we’re stuck in the same old terminals and cramped seats every time we fly — so lets hope their strategies have some real wings.