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Boeing and JetBlue Are Funding Innovative Electric Aircraft Project

Startup hopes to become the Tesla of aviation

Boeing and JetBlue Airways are investing in a startup that is developing an electric-powered aircraft. The electric aircraft has the potential to transform flights for short distances dramatically. This innovation comes at a time when the aviation industry is trying to reduce its pollution footprint emanating from the de facto use of fossil fuels in the sector.

Electric Aircraft Could Reduce Air Fares

Founded in 2013, Zunum Aero is designing and building electric planes to cover as many as 700 miles in one trip initially, and then 1,000 miles by 2030. The 10 to 50-seat electric aircraft could reduce travel times in busy corridors up to 40 percent. In less crowded airspaces the saved travel time goes up to 80 percent. Costs too will decrease by between 40 to 80 percent, which could mean a sharp decline in air fares.

Boeing is helping to fund the project, and for this, the airplane maker has formed a small venture called HorizonX. For its investment in Zunum, HorizonX teamed up with budget airline JetBlue Airways. “We’re trying to look well beyond the horizon,” said Steve Nordlund, who heads Boeing HorizonX. “We’re looking at traditional, non-traditional partnerships that help us accelerate innovation and market opportunities.”

Zunum expects to complete its first plane by 2020. The company based in the North West of the United States said it's been working with the Federal Aviation Administration on the development of certification rules for their electric aircraft. By 2018, a full set of standards is expected to be ready.

The planes will result in 80 percent decrease in emissions compared to purely gas-powered regional jets. The ultimate goal is to fly on 100 percent battery power with zero emissions once battery density capability catches up.

"We believe that, just like Tesla is disrupting the auto industry, electric propulsion will disrupt the regional airline industry," said Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures. "By investing now, we will literally have a seat at the table to see how this technology evolves."

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