Boeing-backed US upstart reckons it'll be building electric airliners

Let's hope they walk the walk better than they talk the talk


A naïve American startup run by "dreamers" claims that its electrically powered airliner concept will magically sweep away all of the world's existing problems with air travel.

Zunum Aero, based in Washington state, wants to build a fleet of what it calls hybrid electric jets for service on short and medium-haul airline routes, primarily in America.

It claims that lowering operational costs by relying on electricity instead of aviation kerosene will lead to much cheaper ticket prices for airline passengers. It also reckons that by making these aircraft smaller than current airliners – in the 10-50 seat range – they will not be subject to quite so many US TSA regulations.

"Imagine leaving your doorstep in San Jose at 7am and making it to a 9:30am meeting in Pasadena," burbles the blurb on their website. "With Zunum Aero, simply drive to a nearby airfield and walk to your aircraft with bags in tow, for a trip that will take half the time and at a much lower fare. Or skip the meeting altogether, and be on the slopes in Tahoe by 8:40am for $100 round-trip, and back home the same evening."

Tech blog The Verge interviewed Zunum chief exec Ashish Kumar, managing to avoid basic questions such as "how does it work?", "how long will it take to recharge?" and "how much will your batteries weigh and does that leave a commercially viable payload?" The company's one-page website does not elaborate on any of these points.

What it does claim is that its electric aircraft "need little support other than a GPS flightpath and a quick recharge or swap facility on the tarmac", which is an interesting way of viewing flight plans, low and high-altitude airways, and all the rest of it.

Zunum's oft-mentioned "hybrid" engines, and in particular their concept pictures, suggest that their engines will look like something in between turboprops and traditional turbofans – perhaps an electric motor. One could imagine an APU (auxiliary power unit, small gas turbine engine typically mounted in the tail cone of an airliner) providing the power feed for takeoff, with onboard batteries being used for the less-intensive cruise and descent flight phases. This is all just guesswork, however.

Boeing's new HorizonX venture capital arm (detailed by Bloomberg here) and regional US airline Jetblue are both investors in Zunum, though there are no public details of how much money each firm has sunk into the startup. Each has a presence on the board, however. These investments suggest that no matter how sketchy Zunum's public information is at present, there must be something worthwhile in it. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • FAA now says 5G airports may interfere with Boeing 737s
    'Radio altimeters cannot be relied upon to function' – gulp

    The US Federal Aviation Administration warned on Wednesday that 5G C-band transmissions may interfere with landing operations at a limited set of airports for most Boeing 737 aircraft.

    It issued an advisory calling for affected planes to observe modified operating procedures where 5G interference might occur. The FAA in January green-lit all 737 models to land at airports when using radio altimeters in low-visibility conditions even if 5G-C cellular towers are nearby.

    The aviation watchdog's U-turn on the 737 "was prompted by a determination that radio altimeters cannot be relied upon to perform their intended function if they experience interference from wireless broadband operations in the 3.7-3.98 GHz frequency band (5G C-Band)..." and by a determination that attempts to deal with interference and the resulting pressure put on aircraft personnel "could result in reduced ability of the flightcrew to maintain safe flight and landing of the airplane."

    Continue reading
  • Boeing demos ground-based anti-jam system for satellites
    Technology is one part of a larger jam-resistant satellite scheme, important for warfare

    Boeing has hit a milestone with its anti-jam satellite communications.

    According to the aircraft maker, it demonstrated successful integration of its Protected Tactical Enterprise Service (PTES) software elements with an industry partner's user terminal.

    The ground-based military satellite communications system allows Boeing-built Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites and terminals to transmit data using the US military's jam-resistant waveform, the Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW).

    Continue reading
  • Japan solves 5G airliner conundrum: Keep mobe masts 200m from airport approach paths. That's it
    (And maintain a guard band.) US airliners melt down as rest of world moves on

    American aviation regulators have banned the use of autoland at some of their country's airports as the local debate about 5G phone mast emissions and airliners continues – while Japan claims to have solved the problem a year ago.

    This morning Emirates, the largest airline of the United Arab Emirates, declared it was suspending flights to nine US airports as mobile network operators in the States said they were suspending their planned switch-on of 5G services. It follows Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan Airlines and Air India, according to the Daily Mail.

    Yet in Japan itself the solution was straightforward, with local scientists telling the International Civil Aviation Organisation last year: "To avoid the blocking of radio altimeters, the location of the high-power 5G base station should be avoided within 200m from the approaching route of aircraft."

    Continue reading
  • Watchdog clears 90 per cent of US commercial aircraft to land in low visibility at nation's 5G C-band airports
    Don't start celebrating just yet if you own a Boeing 747-8, 747-8F, 777

    Updated Nine out of ten of America's commercial aircraft can land in low visibility using radio altimeters at US airports that have nearby 5G C-band masts, the country's aviation watchdog said this week.

    There is some concern that signals at the top of the 5G C-band, namely 3.98GHz, could bleed into the 4.2-4.4GHz band used by airliners' radio altimeters, which are quite handy when visibility is poor. The presence of 5G-C masts could thus affect the ability of aircraft to land safely in sub-optimal weather, it's been claimed.

    AT&T and Verizon this month agreed to partially stall the roll out of 5G-C masts in the US – deploying the tech away from airports – while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) looked into matter. Specifically, the watchdog has been checking the radio altimeters on commercial aircraft to see if the equipment works as expected within range of 5G-C communications.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022