If you are a fan of electric cars, get ready. Electric planes could be coming soon to the commercial market.
Zunum Aero, a startup based in Bothell, Wash., is designing a hybrid electric, 10-to-12-passenger plane that it hopes can be used for commercial flights early in the next decade.
Such an aircraft would produce fewer emissions than a conventional model and cost less to operate both in fuel and because they could use regional airports, said Waleed Said, power chief technology officer.
Zunum has to overcome two major challenges before a plane is ready for commercial use. The main technical problem is the weight of the battery, which has to be both light enough for the plane to get off the ground and powerful enough to fly it. The other hurdle is getting the plane certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Zunum believes that it can overcome both hurdles and fill a need for 500- to 700-mile trips.
Founded in 2013, Zunum is funded by Boeing HorizonX, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the state of Washington Clean Energy Fund. JetSuite, an Irvine, Calif.-based private-jet charter company, announced in May that it would be Zunum’s first customer.
There are already small electric planes, primarily one- and two-seaters that travel short distances. The German company Siemens is collaborating with Airbus and other partners on electric battery-powered flight.
Siemens suffered a setback in May after the Magnus “eFusion” plane with a Siemens electric propulsion unit crashed in Hungary, killing both pilot and passenger.
MagniX, which is based in Redmond, Wash., is developing an all-electric propulsion system for a 10-or-more passenger aircraft.
The hybrid system uses both a generator, powered by jet fuel, and an electric battery. The generator would be used during takeoff, and then the plane could operate with just the battery, according to Said.
Seth Kaplan, managing editor of the industry magazine Airline Weekly, said electric-engine planes are unlikely to be competitive with much larger aircraft, “but if you can reduce the fuel cost, it could be competitive with slightly larger aircraft.”