Flying interstate can be a hassle, usually costing at least $200 and 5+ hours of traveling door to door, not to mention security and other headaches.
A new start-up called Zunum Aero plans to reinvent this, having announced plans to build a fleet of hybrid electric jets to sell to major carriers for use on densely traveled regional routes. The likes of San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) or Boston (BOS) to Washington DC (DCA) are mentioned in an article released by The Verge this week.
"We're entering the golden era where we’ll have high-speed links to every community on the backs of quiet, sustainable hybrid-electric technology, and that's going to happen really fast." - Ashish Kumar, CEO of Zanum Aero
It’s predicted that without the need to refuel the cost of travel could be reduced from 40 to 80 percent, and with fewer passengers would be subject to less security regulation. Although don’t expect things to change overnight, the first planes will roll off the assembly line in the early 2020s and planes which can carry up to 50 passengers and travel up to 1000 miles on a single charge are not expected until the 2030s.
The future for electric air travel does look very promising, this year an all-electric plane in Germany broke a record, flying 211 mph over a distance of under two miles. Airbus has also been developing its own electric plane prototype called the E-Fan concept, which flew across the English Channel in 2015.
So what about autonomous planes while we’re at it? According to an article by The Atlantic “On a 2.5 hour domestic flight, autopilots and flight-management systems typically do about 95 percent of the work.” Airliners like Boeing 777s and Airbus’s A330s can now fly further than earlier four-engine 747s, even with comparable passenger loads. They consume roughly 40 percent less fuel too it’s done with only two pilots instead of the three-cockpit crew of earlier airliners. Before the 1980’s the role of the third crew member was that of Flight Engineer, this was eliminated when controls were automated and placed in the pilot’s overhead panel.
It’s certainly clear that low cost, efficient, sustainable and even autonomous regional travel would be a welcome alternative to flying tiger airways to try and save a buck, advances in this industry could make common, regional flights like Sydney to Melbourne more viable for people and businesses, in the case of autonomy even totally redesigning how we live and work.
However, it doesn’t look like there will be an overnight game changer in the short term, in the meantime we can dream about upgrading to Telsa’s new model X.