An employee works on the tail of a Boeing Co. Dreamliner 787 plane on the production line at the company’s final assembly facility. (Photographer: Travis Dove/Bloomberg)  

Boeing-Backed Startup Lands JetSuite for Electric Plane's Debut

(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co.-backed startup Zunum Aero plans to deliver its first hybrid-electric plane in 2022 to JetSuite Inc., setting the stage for a new era in regional flying.

JetSuite, a small charter airline with plans to expand a commercial operation nationally, eventually will receive as many as 100 aircraft that seat up to 12 passengers each, Zunum co-founder Matt Knapp said in a statement Monday. JetBlue Airways Corp. has invested in Zunum and JetSuite. The charter operator is also backed by Qatar Airways.

The new aircraft will eliminate the roar of combustion-based engines, powered instead by twin propulsors attached to the rear of its frame. The ducted, or covered, fans will be driven by electric motors. A conventional fuel-powered motor will serve as a back-up system at the outset.

Battery packs, rather than fuel, will be housed in the aircraft’s wings. Zunum expects the technology to advance rapidly given the investment pouring into electric cars and aircraft. Competitors such as Europe’s Airbus SE and a partnership that includes EasyJet Plc, the U.S. military and NASA are pursuing similar concepts.

“JetSuite, with its tradition of shifting paradigms in aviation, is an ideal partner for us in this launch collaboration,” Ashish Kumar, Zunum’s chief executive officer, said in the statement. “We have a shared vision for fundamentally transforming and improving the way that people live and travel.”

JetSuite has reserved “a fraction” of the first 100 Zunum Aero 10 aircraft to be produced, and the timing of remaining deliveries will be determined closer to 2022, Kumar said in an email.

Aircraft Range

Zunum plans to provide aircraft both for JetSuite’s private charter operation and larger versions for its JetSuiteX scheduled flight service, he said. The ZA10 will have a range of 700 miles when introduced in 2022. The larger ZA50 is targeted for the mid-2020s and will be able to fly 1,000 miles.

JetSuiteX began flying scheduled service along the West Coast in April 2016, using Embraer SA’s 30-seat ERJ135 regional jets. The airline employs private air terminals in California and Las Vegas, allowing travelers to bypass larger airports and congested terminals. The carrier said in April that it’s still examining destinations for its planned eastward expansion.

Zunum is developing and building prototypes for electric motors, power and thermal systems, electronics, quiet fans and control platforms that will be tested on the ground later this year and in early 2019, ahead of the start of flight testing. The work is being done at Zunum centers in Washington, Illinois and Indiana.

The company plans to modify and electrify an existing twin-engine aircraft in stages for the flight tests, Kumar said.

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