WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- The airline industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries but as battery technology improves more companies are piling in to create the world’s first, viable electric passenger planes
All of a sudden there’s a lot of gossip and activity buzzing around electric Sky Taxis, which will be taking off from Dubai this summer, and electric aircraft. Now, hot on the heels of Rolls Royce’s announcement that they wanted to stick it to fossil fuels, and EasyJet’s partnership with Wright Electric to make electric flight a reality, a new start up Zunum Aero wants in on the action.
Just coming out of a three year stealth mode the company wants to begin building a fleet of hybrid electric jets to fly between regional airports in the United States, and they’ve got the backing of some major airlines.
Initially the company wants to be able to offer short trips, like flights to Boston to Washington, DC, or San Francisco to Los Angeles, with no need to refuel and they believe they can reduce the cost of air travel by between 40% and 80%. And that’s a lot.
The first aircraft will likely be able to accommodate ten passengers and have a range of up to 700 miles on a single charge. The Zunum plane, no I didn’t say Tsum Tsum the funny looking characters from Disney (that’s a dad joke – yeah, well your jokes probably suck too…), which is apparently Mayan for “Hummingbird,” will hopefully have a thirty year lifespan and hybrid electric motors that can be charged from a variety of sources.
The company also expects electric batteries to improve as time goes on, something we’ve seen with Tesla where the Model 3’s battery packs are three times as dense as their predecessor’s, so that by the 2030’s they could build planes seating up to 50 passengers capable of 1,000 miles on a single charge, allowing for multi-region flights, like Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles.
“We’re entering the golden era where we’ll have high speed links to every community on the backs of quiet, sustainable hybrid-electric technology,” said CEO Ashish Kumar, “and that’s going to happen really fast.”
Kumar also seems to have won the backing of aerospace giant Boeing, as well as JetBlue Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of JetBlue Airways, both of which have invested money in the company, although Kumar didn’t release any numbers.
Electric airplanes have many complexities that cars don’t. Weight is exponentially more important in the air than on the ground, but apparently Zunum has completed work on its powertrain and the preliminary design of its aircraft, saying it’s now in “build phase.”
Right now it looks like Zunum has a promising design, but it’s going to be a hard journey, and one that relies on some quite serious technology advances, particularly in the field of materials and energy, and a good tail wind.
Who knows, one day flying from New York to Los Angeles might be more environmentally friendly than your energy chugging TV, and wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books?