Boeing, JetBlue Back Electric Plane Startup

Zunum Aero, a startup backed by the venture capital arm of jet maker Boeing Co. (BA) and airline company JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU), is planning to deliver its first hybrid-electric plane in 2022. (See also: Airline Stocks Are a Cheap Buy: Bernstein.)

The delivery to charter operator JetSuite Inc. will be a milestone in regional flights as the small airline plans to expand its commercial operations across the U.S. The company currently offers private charter flights and semi-private scheduled service to West Coast destinations on its JetSuiteX planes. On Monday, the company, which is backed by JetBlue and Qatar Airways, said in a statement that it's targeted to take delivery of 100 aircraft from Zunum Aero, which will each seat as many as 12 passengers. The planes will be powered by two electric motors, which should sharply reduce the travel time and the cost of trips under 1,000 miles. The ZA10 will have a range of 700 miles when introduced in 2020 according to JetSuite, while the larger ZA50 is targeted for the mid-2020s and will have a larger range of about 1,000 miles. The deal makes JetSuite the debut customer for the hybrid plane maker. 

New Planes for Regional Flights

Zunum's plans are reflective of a larger push in the industry to develop planes that use similar battery technology pioneered by the auto industry to eliminate the emissions and roar of combustion-based jet engines. Europe's Airbus SE has partnered with EasyJet PLC to develop such a model, while the U.S. military and NASA are also doubling down on similar initiatives. The startup is also developing and building prototypes for electric motors, power and thermal systems, electronics, quiet fans and control platforms at its centers in Washington, Illinois and Indiana. It is planning ground tests for its first batch of planes this year and flight tests in 2019. 

JetBlue Technology Ventures president Bonny Simi is upbeat on the opportunity to improve the short-term travel experience with cheaper-to-operate flights and shorter trips through the airport. "That's the part of the travel industry that's broken," said Simi, as quoted by CNBC.   (See also: Jet Demand Benefits Airbus Over Boeing: Analysts.)

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