Start-up eyes hybrid plane by 2020

PILOT OPTIONAL::Spying a gap in the US’ regional travel market, the 12-seater aircraft, with a cruise speed of 547kph, aims to cover the 1,610km travel segment


Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 10

Much as automakers are hitting the accelerator on electric cars, an aerospace venture backed by Boeing Co on Thursday said it would introduce a hybrid electric plane for delivery in 2022.

Zunum Aero, a Seattle start-up that counts both Boeing and JetBlue Airways Corp as investors, released details about an aircraft that could carry 12 passengers up to 1,125km.

The plane aims to address a gap in regional travel of up to 1,610km, a segment for which there are few options, high costs and “door-to-door travel times haven’t improved in decades,” Zunum Aero said in a news release.

The technology could let planes skip big regional airports such as Washington and Boston and instead travel from Beverly, Massachusetts to College Park, Maryland at a lower fare.

“We believe that the regional transportation industry is ripe for disruption and we’re excited to support Zunum and its efforts to help introduce a new era of aviation,” JetBlue Technology Ventures president Bonny Simi said.

Maximum cruise speed on the vehicle will be 547kph and it will emit 80 percent fewer emissions and noise, the company said.

The company expects to begin test flights in 2019.

Zunum Aero has hired technologists who have worked on leading-edge vehicles for Boeing and Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC.

Separately, Boeing Co is buying longtime partner Aurora Flight Sciences Corp, gaining a portfolio of futuristic technology such as autonomous air taxis that may someday navigate city skies for Uber Technologies Inc.

The acquisition gives Boeing enhanced expertise in robotic copilots, drone cargo aircraft and other products designed to reshape the aerospace industry.

Boeing said the purchase of Manassas, Virginia-based Aurora, which has 550 employees, would not affect its financial guidance.

Terms were not disclosed in a statement by the companies on Thursday.

Aurora has designed, produced and flown more than 30 autonomous air vehicles since the company was founded in 1989. Its aircraft use autonomous technology including perception, machine learning and advanced flight-control systems.

The Centaur is an “optionally piloted aircraft,” and a robotic copilot that has flown a Boeing 737 flight simulator.

In April, the company successfully flew an air-taxi prototype that takes off and lands vertically, handy for rooftop arrivals and departures.

Aurora aims to deliver 50 of the aircraft by 2020 for testing by Uber Elevate, the ride-sharing company’s initiative for flying cars.

Aurora’s expertise in self-flying aircraft will also benefit Boeing, which has stepped up its research in that area as a pilot shortage threatens to crimp airline growth.

The Chicago-based planemaker is studying artificial intelligence that would allow a single pilot to be at the controls during a long cruise, a potential step toward fully autonomous flights.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg