Boeing Green

Hybrid planes for commuter flights said to be cleaner, cheaper

Hybrid vehicles appear to be sincerely on their way from novelty to norm. Electric motors on aircraft are not entirely new, but the concept has yet to make real headway into the commercial market until this latest projection.

Boeing’s mega-plant in Everett, Washington (the largest manufacturing facility in the world by square footage) is expected to be utilized in conjunction with the efforts of Seattle area startup Zunum Aero. The company is backed by Boeing and JetBlue’s venture capital unit. It has designs for commuter planes powered by 2 electric motors that could seat approximately 12 people. The company has set 2022 as a rough estimate for its first flight.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because it is: Siemens went to work on a prototype for electric aircraft last summer. That model at the time marked an advance towards hybrid-electric aircraft with four or more seats being possible, a mark that Siemens’ Frank Anton boldly claimed “will change aviation”. Anton is head of eAircraft at Siemens’ central research unit Corporate Technology. “This is the first time that an electric aircraft in the quarter-megawatt performance class has flown,” he said in July 2016. Zunum Aero is taking that next step towards a commuter aircraft.

As Reuters reported, Boeing backed the project due to its appeal to the short-range flier. The electric planes could offer a reduction in travel time and cost of short flights under 1,000 miles. Zunum expects to fill a gap for regional flights currently served only by expensive private jets or large commercial planes that struggle to generate enough demand and income to cover costs. It provided the example of flights from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles, predicting it would cost around $120 and would cut down on both commute time and airport-related fees by avoiding major hubs.

The planes would still have a jet-fuel engine to supplement the battery use and extend the plane’s range to about 700 miles after battery power is exhausted. Zunum also plans to build larger, battery-powered jets for up to 50 passengers by the end of the next decade. Knapp expects advancements in technology over time would allow a plane to fly about 1,000 miles without jet fuel.

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