Since the beginning of heavier than air flight, aircraft have been changing at a rapid pace. One of the areas that has undergone the most change is propulsion/energy. The focus on sustainable air travel, rising jet fuel costs, and increased efficiency efforts are creating the need for better aircraft. One company, Zunum Aero, may have the answer with hybrid electric aircraft.
What is Zunum Aero?
Zunum Aero is an aircraft design and manufacturing company that is based in Kirkland, Washington. The company started in 2013. Two notable investors are JetBlue Technology Ventures and Boeing HorizonX. The company aims to address current commercial flight issues with the creation of hybrid electric aircraft.
Current State of Commercial Air Travel
Over the past few years, travelers have had a much harder time flying. Regional airport flights are requiring more stops, offering less flights to fewer destinations, and charging prices that can’t compete. Short flights (to destinations within 500 miles) often cost three to five times more per mile than those for flights to destinations over 1,000 miles away. The total travel time can surpass, and double, that of driving. Many people don’t even consider short flights because of the decreased costs, time savings, and convenience of travling by car.
Benefits of Hybrid Electric Aircraft
The company believes that smaller, efficient aircraft are the best fit for shorter routes. Small hybrid electric aircraft can easily use the shorter runways and tighter spaces at regional airports. The lower operating costs will allow airlines to pass savings on to customers. Preliminary estimates indicate a likely reduction in ticket prices between 35% – 75% due to fuel cost savings. The addition of these types of aircraft will lead to more direct flight options, resulting in shorter, reasonable travel times. The decreased use of fuel will also cut down on noise and emissions.
How’s it Work?
Aircraft propulsion will come from two ducted fans that are powered by batteries. A jet fuel run turbine will provide power once the batteries run low, typically on longer duration flights. An aircraft may use battery power for the first 150 miles, then switch to fuel power to extend the route another 550 miles. The only limitation to full electric power is battery technology.
Planning for the Future
Zunum expects the new aircraft to remain in fleets the same time as traditional jets, about 30 years. To ensure that airlines can take advantage of upgrades in battery technology, the airframes are designed to accommodate additional battery units or even run without the fuel engine.