Hybrid jet for regional routes by 2022?
Ask Zunum Aero, however, and it seems that all questions have essentially been answered: the U.S. start-up from Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle, is aiming to get its hybrid jet for 12 passengers onto the market by 2022. Measuring almost 16 meters in length, this small aircraft’s two 500-kilowatt electric motors should allow it to reach a speed of 550 kilometers per hour and give it a range of 1,130 kilometers.
Through fuel savings and lower maintenance costs for the more straightforwardly installed electric motors, Zunum expects a 40 to 80 percent reduction in operating costs and a 75 percent drop in noise compared to conventional aircraft. “This would get around the ban on night flights, which would make operation more profitable,” says Zunum’s head of marketing Sandi Adam. The start-up’s big break is the significant cost advantage it hopes to achieve. “In the United States, many of the aircraft in use for regional routes still use entirely inefficient technology from the 1960s,” Adam says. The old planes are burning money, which is why the airlines are open to the notion of replacing their fleets. California-based charter airline JetSuite actually announced at the end of May that it intends to purchase up to 100 of Zunum’s small hybrid aircraft. Adam also sees good sales opportunities in many other countries, estimating the overall size of the global regional aircraft market at a trillion USD.
No doubt this figure is also what won over Boeing’s venture capital division, Horizon X: together with JetBlue Technology Ventures, Boeing bought a stake in the start-up almost a year ago. But no details have been released as to the extent of the investment or the battery technology being used. The latter in particular gives experts like Hornung cause to doubt that the version that is scheduled to take off four years from now can be anything more than a prototype. Zunum’s CEO Ashish Kumar is very optimistic and also sure that we can expect great advances in batteries in the future. He foresees that by the year 2035, his hybrid jet will have a range of some 2,400 kilometers. “Perhaps we will be able to do away with the gas turbines and the power generator altogether,” Kumar says. Dr. Jörg Sieber, who is in charge of innovation management at MTU Aero Engines, is skeptical: although batteries are getting better bit by bit, there’s been no discernable breakthrough in the technology.