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Hybrid electric plane company outlines its first e-plane

  • Zunum Aero believes millions of people will be comfortable flying on the hybrid electric planes.
  • The start-up plans to deliver starting the planes in 2022.
  • The first Zunum Aero is likely to sell for somewhere in the range of $3 million.
Artist rendering of Zunum Aero aircraft flying over Seattle
Source: Zunum Aero
Artist rendering of Zunum Aero aircraft flying over Seattle

Forget the electric car, are you ready to fly in an electric plane?

Zunum Aero, a start-up based in suburban Seattle, believes millions of people will be comfortable flying on the hybrid electric planes it plans to deliver starting in 2022.

"By the time this aircraft is in the air in early 2020 everyone will have ridden in an electric car or ridden in an electric bus," said Ashish Kumar, CEO of Zunum Aero. Because of that familiarity, Kumar thinks the public, charter plane operators and companies looking for a new corporate jet will feel comfortable flying in a hybrid electric plane.

An official price will be set at some point in the next couple of years, but the first Zunum Aero is likely to sell for somewhere in the range of $3 million.

While Zunum was started in 2013, it's just starting to share details about its first plane. The hybrid electric jet will seat up to 12 people, fly up to 700 miles and have operating costs of 8 cents per seat mile, below the operating costs of small turboprops and business jets powered by jet fuel.

"Our operating costs are about 60-90 percent lower than that of comparable turboprops and business jets," said Kumar. "On shorter legs the costs are below what a regional jet would be."

While hybrid electric and full electric vehicles have become more common in recent years, the aviation industry has been slow to embrace e-planes, partially because of the weight and cost of lithium-ion battery packs. Kumar says both of those issues are improving.

In addition, he says the world of aviation is ready for a new propulsion system that he estimates will have 80 percent lower emissions and be dramatically quieter than comparable planes.

"This is the first time in 70 years that you actually get a dramatically new propulsion system entering the business," he said.

Zunum is backed in part by Boeing HorizonX, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the state of Washington Clean Energy Fund.