Zunum Aero, a fledgling transportation startup that promises to “take aviation into the future” using small hybrid-electric aircraft and regional airports, has provided more details about how it plans to achieve its goal.
By way of a quick recap, we first reported on Zunum Aero back in April when it launched out of stealth with financial backing from Boeing and JetBlue’s venture capital arms — HorizonX and JetBlue Ventures, respectively.
The company revealed at the time that it was building 10- to 50-seat aircraft that will tap thousands of quieter regional airports around the U.S. to transport people up to 700 miles. Zunum Aero aims to put this service into effect by the early 2020s, with plans to increase the flying range to 1,000 miles within a decade.
The problem Zunum Aero is looking to fix is this: More than 95 percent of all U.S. air traffic passes through just 2 percent of the country’s 5,000 airports. Zunum Aero wants to harness all those underused local airports to build an electric aircraft network that promises not only lower emissions but provide a 40 percent decrease in door-to-door travel time. Additionally, the company said that due to lower in-house operating costs, it will be able to offer 80 percent cheaper fares.
While Zunum Aero’s original proposition was alluring, it didn’t offer much in the way of details. Today, the Kirkland, Washington-based startup is offering a glimpse into what it has in store.
Zunum Aero initially plans to build a 12-seater hybrid-electric aircraft that travels at a maximum cruising speed of 340 miles per hour. This aircraft is targeted for a 2022 launch. So, basically, the first Zunum Aero vehicle will be capable of traveling for around two hours — it won’t get you from New York to San Francisco, but it could get you from Boston to Washington, D.C. The company predicts that such a flight could cost as little as $140 one-way, with a 2hr 30m door-to-door journey, factoring in a number of regional airports.
The company created this computer simulation of how its service would work when it’s up and running.
Digging into the details, the company is promising a direct cost of 9 cents per mile for each seat, which works out to around $260 per hour for the entire aircraft.
The company also provided these additional specifications:
- Quiet electric propulsors with variable pitch fans, enabling a 40 percent reduction in runway needs, 75 percent drop in community noise, and fine thrust control
- Wing-integrated batteries that enable tailoring of onboard battery capacity and quick swap or recharge at airports
- An optimization and control platform that provides real-time flight energy optimization, power management, fault detection, and recovery
“This aircraft is going to transform how we live and work,” claimed Zunum Aero founder and chief engineer Matt Knapp. “We’ve pushed ourselves to challenge conventional wisdom and the limits of engineering to deliver an aircraft of which we are extremely proud — one that offers efficiency and performance without compromise.”
Flying cars and other innovations in air transport have emerged as something of a trend in the entrepreneurial and VC realm. Last month, German aviation startup Lilium raised $90 million to build a network of on-demand flying taxis, and Slovakia-based AeroMobil recently raised fresh funds to bring flying cars to Asia.
Elsewhere, Massachusetts-based Terrafugia has been working on prototypes of “roadable” aircraft for more than a decade, while Google cofounder Larry Page is backing two aviation startups. Kitty Hawk debuted its ultralight personal aircraft earlier this year, and Page founded Zee back in 2010 to build a “small, all-electric plane that could take off and land vertically,” according to a Bloomberg report.
Zunum Aero said that it’s planning to open a second development center in the Chicago area and plans to commence ground tests ahead of the first test flights sometime in 2019.