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Can Electric Jets Revolutionise Air Travel?

Previously, we’ve covered the potential that single or small cargo passenger drones could change the way people travel short distances within cities, but what about aircraft capable of ferrying a larger number of passengers across greater distances, what will the innovation there be?

Well, if you believe a brand-new start-up called Zunum Aero, the future exists in small electric jets.

The Kirkland, Washington based company came out of stealth-mode this week with plans to build a fleet of hybrid electric jets to sell to major airlines around the world to service on densely travelled like those between US cities and the UK and Europe. It’s not just hot air either, the company have received funding from some of the biggest names in aerospace, like Boeing and JetBlue.

The company claim that because the jets won’t need refuelling with expensive fuel, they’ll save carriers huge sums, allowing them to reduce fairs by 40 to 80%. They also suggest that because the crafts are smaller than a typical jet, they’ll be subject to fewer security regulations, potentially cutting the time spent at the gate dealing with security, though this is primarily an American concern.

Zunum are planning to build a number of models of hybrid-electric propulsion jets, though at launch their only aircraft will be a tiny thing, between 10 and 15 feet, with a capacity of 10 passengers and a range of up to 700 miles, starting from the early 2020s. That won’t be good enough to replace the huge jets dominating the skies at the moment, but they’ve got plans of that.

By the early 2030s, as electric battery production improves, Zunum hope to build larger aircraft capable of carrying up to 50 people over 1,000 miles on a single charge.

Co-founder of Zunum, Kumar saidL “We’re entering the golden era where we’ll have high-speed links to every community on the backs of quiet, sustainable hybrid-electric technology, and that’s going to happen really fast.”

Nevertheless, there are a mountain of potential obstacles in the way, not least the length of time airplanes are meant to stay in operation for. Typically, consumer jets run for 30 years, and so ensuring that these early hybrid electric jets have as long a life as their traditional counterparts. Zunum are keen to point out that their designs are meant to be compatible with the future of battery designs and range-extending generators, though much remains unknown.

What is clear, however, is that Zunum represents a new wave in aerospace innovation, one which we’re delighted to see as a leading aerospace and aviation testing adapter supplier. These are very early days, but as the world moves away from fossil fuel technologies and towards sustainable, renewable sources and battery units, that innovation will eventually make its way towards the aerospace industry and revolutionise air travel, just as the jet engine did all those decades ago.

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