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This 12-Seater Electric Airplane Could Fly You on Short Trips—One Day

October 5, 2017

Does an electric flight from New York to Boston for $70 sound too good to be true? That's the promise being made by the electric-airplane startup Zunum Aero—and it’s one that you certainly shouldn’t dismiss out of hand.

Zunum has already made its plan to shake up the air transport industry known, and its ambition has earned the company backing from both Boeing and JetBlue. But today Zunum has revealed more details about how, exactly, it plans to do it. Most intriguing are the details about the airplane, shown in the concept image above, which it plans to have zipping through the skies by 2022.

Crucially, it’s not all-electric, because battery technology still isn’t advanced enough to power a 12-seater airplane like this. Instead, it’s a hybrid that uses a combination of jet fuel and wing-loaded batteries to push itself along.

What’s smart is that it’s been designed so that the fuel tank can be shrunk, or even removed, as batteries improve in quality, so it could become all-electric in the future. In its hybrid form, the plane should cruise at 340 miles per hour and be good for a 700-mile trip.

Zunum’s business model is interesting, too: it plans to make use of underutilized airports in the U.S. in order to provide more efficient regional travel—a kind of bus service in the air. That means it wouldn’t fly from, say, JFK to Logan airport, but instead will shuttle between obscure airports like Republic, which is in the suburbs outside New York City, and Hanscom Field outside of Boston. That won’t necessarily be convenient if you need to be in the city, but the idea is to provide flights from numerous sites around urban areas, closer to where many people actually live. It also promises to make that Hanscom-Republic trip in an hourand 44 minutes, and for just $70.

There are, clearly, still barriers for Zunum to overcome—not least of which is building the actual plane. And it remains to be seen if the firm will hit that ambitious 2022 deadline. But it and other companies are all pushing hard to build electric aircraft, so the notion of cleaner, quieter flights isn’t quite as far-fetched as it once sounded.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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