JetBlue-backed private jet company signs up for hybrid electric planes

  • Zunum is backed by venture arms of Boeing and JetBlue.
  • JetSuite offers private charters and scheduled semi-private service.
  • Zunum aims to test electric hybrid flights next year.
A rendering of a hybrid electric plane design of Zunum Aero. JetSuite wants to be a launch customer.
Source: Zunum Aero
A rendering of a hybrid electric plane design of Zunum Aero. JetSuite wants to be a launch customer.

A JetBlue-backed private jet company is making a bet on electric planes.

JetSuite, which offers private charter flights, and semi-private scheduled service on its JetSuiteX planes, said Monday it will become the launch customer for up to 100 hybrid-to-electric planes from start-up Zunum Aero.

Zunum, which is backed by venture arms of both JetBlue and Boeing and Washington state's Clean Energy Fund, said the first batch of planes will seat 12 passengers and would be available in 2022. The company is planning ground tests this year and flight tests in 2019.

JetSuite and Zunum share an investor in JetBlue, which is rethinking short-distance flights through its investments. Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures, said the aim is to improve the experience of flights under 1,000 miles, with shorter trips through the airport and cheaper-to-operate flights.

That's "the part of the travel industry that's broken," Simi said. "People don't want to go to the airport only to fly a one-hour flight."

Irvine, California-based JetSuite last month received additional investment from Qatar Airways and JetBlue, which has strengthened its tie to the private jet company. The airline recently announced it would sell seats on JetSuiteX, the scheduled, semi-private flights the company offers, on JetBlue's website in a code-sharing agreement. JetSuite is relocating to the Dallas area in the coming months and expanding its service.

JetSuiteX, which offers scheduled semi-private service, will eventually replace retired Embraer 135 planes with the Zunum planes, JetSuite's CEO, Alex Wilcox, said, touting potential fuel savings from the hybrid planes.