These Hybrid-Electric Planes Are Revolutionizing the Future of Air Travel
It’s like the family Prius, but with wings.
Electric travel is now the future of domestic aviation in America. An airline startup, Zunum Aero, just unveiled a bold new plan to develop a series of electric and hybrid aircrafts, lowering the overall cost of air travel and, in turn, the US carbon footprint.
On average, a 4,000-mile flight requires 20,000 gallons of fuel. And according to FlightStats — an online air travel stat source — an average of 90,000 flights take off every day. That’s a lot of emissions.
As a matter of fact, jet fuel produces a total of 21 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per gallon burned.
Since 1990, CO2 emissions from international aviation have increased by 83%, according to the David Suzuki Foundation — a science-based environmental organization. CO2 emissions have commonly been linked back to serious health hazards and lasting environmental costs.
Zunum Aero claims that 40% of airline pollution comes from regional flights.
The team has been working with the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems at the University of Illinois on a “hybrid-to-electric” approach, combining battery storage with engine-generated power. A software system onboard would indicate when the engine needs to be turned on, and for how long.
“As batteries become more capable, the airplane’s power train could go all-electric,” Ashish Kumar, the founder and CEO of the company, said.
Zunum plans on starting with 10-passenger aircrafts in 2020 before shifting over to bigger ones once technology is further developed. Domestic routes have fallen into disuse, they claim, because of a decades-long trend that favors large aircrafts and bigger airports.
“Our stock of 13,500 airports [in the US] is the largest in the world,” the company stated on its website. “Yet just 140 of the largest hubs carry over 97% of air traffic.”
The company recently won the financial backing from major airlines like Boeing Co. and JetBlue Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of JetBlue Airways.
But Zunum isn’t the only company finding ways to sustainably traverse the globe.
Just last year, Solar Impulse — a Swiss long-range experimental aircraft project — became the first team to circumnavigate the world on a flight fueled solely by solar energy. Airbus has its E-Fan program to develop electric aircraft concepts. And Boeing and NASA have long been putting resources into hybrid-electric development projects. Even Uber is working on electric-powered flying cars.
The landscape of transportation is radically changing for the better, and companies like Zunum Aero are leading that revolution.