A startup based in Seattle backed by the Boeing and JetBlue Airways venture arms is planning to bring a small hybrid-electric aircraft to market no later than 2022 that can dramatically lower travel time and cost for trips of less than 1,000 miles, it said Thursday.
The first of many aircraft that Zunum Aero has planned would hold as many as 12 passengers and have a pair of electric motors.
Batteries for electric-vehicles, like those made by Panasonic Corp and Tesla Inc. would give the power to the motor.
The plane would have a supplemental gas-powered engine as well as an electric generator that would be used to give the aircraft a 700-mile range, said the chief aeronautic engineer and co-founder of the company Matt Knapp.
Zunum does not have any commitment to Panasonic or Tesla.
A larger aircraft that seats as many as 50 passengers is scheduled to follow sometime before the end of the next decade, and both the smaller and larger models would have a range that increases to 1,000 miles as technology for electric-batteries improves, said Knapp.
The two aircraft would eventually fly just through battery power, and will be designed to fly with just one pilot and be remotely piloted eventually, added Knapp.
Several different companies, including Airbus, the European plane maker and Uber Technologies, are working on electric-powered, intra-urban self-flying autos.
Zunum is not expecting to be the first company to certify an aircraft that is electric-powered with federal regulators. Its goal is to fill the market for regional travel air carriers, where commercial jetliners and private jets are too expensive for many of them to use.
Knapp added that airlines are interested in knowing how they can fly short distances and make money doing it.
Recent advances of autonomous and electric-vehicle technology, as well as with lighter weight electric motors and airframes made of carbon composite would help to lower the flying cost for aircraft from Zunum to only 8 cents per each seat-mile, or a fifth that of today’s turboprop aircraft or small jet.
Zunum announced its plans to make its electric-hybrid plane this past April, and revealed that JetBlue Technology Ventures and Boeing’s HorizonX invested in the company’s first round of funding.
Thursday Zunum disclosed the specs and timetable for the new vehicle to enter service.
Zunum also said the plane would have a cruising speed of 340 miles per hour at levels of 25,000 feet, which is slower as well as lower than gas-powered jets.