Boeing and JetBlue made separate investments into Zunum Aero, a startup focused on developing hybrid electric aircraft that may revolutionize short-haul flights.
The move is one of the first two investments of HorizonX, a new division of Boeing that will serve as the company's venture capital arm.
Zunum Aero Sets Sights On Future Of Air Transportation
Zunum Aero, based in Kirkland, Washington, is looking to launch electric airplanes into the skies in a bid to help airlines and passengers save time and money when it comes to regional flights in addition to being friendlier to the environment.
The startup revealed that it is working on a hybrid electric airplane powered by batteries that are located in its wings. The goal of the aircraft is to reduce the costs of flights with maximum distances of 1,000 miles, with the target of getting the hybrid electric airplanes operational by the early 2020s.
Short-haul flights tend to become costly due to the inclusion of small airports. Airlines transporting fewer passengers to such destinations will need to charge more to cover the costs of flights. Zunum Aero, however, claims that it can reduce the costs for airlines for such short flights by around 40 percent to 80 percent through the usage of its hybrid electric aircraft, which will be able to eventually cater up to 50 passengers.
The aircraft will be powered by a battery first series hybrid propulsion system, with battery power as the primary source and an aviation diesel or turbine range-extending power generator as backup.
The development of hybrid electric aircraft is apparently something that both Boeing and JetBlue agree to be the future of short-haul air transportation, as evidenced by the investments that they made into Zunum Aero.
"I consider us very fortunate to have backers like JetBlue and Boeing," said the startup's CEO and founder Ashish Kumar. He added that Zunum Aero has been in talks with both companies for around a year and that they all share the passion in the opportunity to "reinvent regional air travel."
JetBlue, Boeing Believe In Zunum Aero
The amount of the investment by JetBlue Technology Ventures, the venture capital fund helmed by former Olympian Bonny Simi, into Zunum Aero is undisclosed. However, it is obvious that the JetBlue division share the same vision as the startup.
Simi said that JetBlue Technology Ventures is always looking for new technologies that will allow JetBlue to "change the game," and the work being done by Zunum Aero on environmentally friendly aircraft will lead to the utilization of underused airports and the reinvention of regional air transportation. Simi also described Zunum Aero as "Tesla for the air."
Boeing's HorizonX vice president Steve Nordlund expressed the same confidence in Zunum Aero's mission, though the amount of its investment in the startup also remained undisclosed.
Boeing Makes Further Technology Investments
Boeing's HorizonX also invested into Upskills, a software company based in Washington, D.C. that utilizes eyewear resembling the Google Glass to assist assembly workers in tasks such as the creation of wiring bundles for aircraft.
Boeing is not looking to make a direct profit from its investment but instead looks to gain access to technology that can be used to improve its operations. The investments in Zunum Aero and Upskill show that Boeing is committed to keeping in step with the latest technologies to remain a leader in the aircraft industry.