Boeing Co and JetBlue Airways Corp have teamed up to invest in a new startup working to develop an electric-powered aircraft that could greatly transform short air cargo and air travel.
The company they are investing in is called Zunum Aero and they are both designing and building planes with as many as 50 seats to make trips in the 700 mile range. They hope to expand this range to 1000 by 2030. According to the company, this new type of aircraft would fill a “vast regional transport gap” in the industry, reducing travel times in the busiest air transport corridors by as much as 40 percent and by as much as 80 percent in areas with even less traffic.
“Our charter is looking beyond the horizon,’’ explains Boeing HorizonX head Steve Nordlund. Boeing HorizonX, is the venture-capital arm of the Chicago-based airplane manufacturer. “We’re looking at traditional, non-traditional partnerships that help us accelerate innovation and market opportunities.’’
In addition, National Science Foundation’s Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems director, Andrew Alleyne, notes, “It’s a wonderful opportunity; but it comes with some serious technology challenges.”
The big part of this push, though, is to build electric or hybrid-electric planes which, of course, will require no fuel but could compensate with battery weight control necessities and heat management, making efficient power subsystem integration that much more important. After all, the composite materials typically used to build the fuselage can multiple overall heat problems.
Alleyne explains “If we can solve those here in the U.S., it puts us at a serious competitive advantage.”
Zunum and Boeing both are members of the center, which focuses on increasing the power density of the electrified transportation system in the U.S.
JetBlue Technology Ventures president Bonny Simi also comments, “We believe that, just like Tesla is disrupting the auto industry, electric propulsion will disrupt the regional airline industry. By investing now, we will literally have a seat at the table to see how this technology evolves.”
Finally, Nordlund concludes that it is important to add a little disruption to the lower end of the market, keeping an eye on the way that innovation develops in order to get in front of it.