JetSuite Is Launch Customer For Zunum’s Hybrid-Electric Regional

New Delhi, May 22, 2018: U.S. scheduled charter operator JetSuite is the launch customer for Zunum Aero’s hybrid-electric regional aircraft, which is scheduled for delivery beginning in 2022.

The company has options to buy up to 100 aircraft for both its JetSuite private charter and JetSuiteX public charter divisions.

JetBlue Airways, which has invested in startup Zunum along with BoeingHorizon X, is a strategic investor in JetSuite, which is led by founding JetBlue executive Alex Wilcox. On May 1, JetBlue began codesharing on JetSuiteX flights between destinations in California and Nevada.

JetBlue increased its investment in the company in April. Qatar Airways at the same time took a minority stake in JetSuite, and indirectly in JetSuiteX. The extra capital will fund growth, the company said at the time, announcing it is moving its headquarters to Dallas from California.

JetSuiteX operates Embraer ERJ-135s between Burbank, Concord and Oakland in California and Las Vegas. The flights operate from private air terminals. Normally seating 37 passengers, the JetSuiteX ERJ-135s have had eight seats removed so they can fly from secondary airports without requiring passengers to go through Transportation Security Administration screening checkpoints. Instead, the same security measures used for private charters are applied, said JetSuite.

“Their market model is close to ours,” said Ashish Kumar, Zunum founder and CEO. The Seattle-based company is targeting the short-haul sector, and its first aircraft is being designed to carry 12 passengers at least 700 mi. at a cruise speed of 340 mph. Range is forecast to increase as battery technology improves.

JetSuiteX plans to operate Zunum’s aircraft in a nine-passenger layout, Kumar said. JetSuite, which also operates Embraer Phenom light business jets, will fly it in an executive configuration with six seats according to aviationweek.com .

Low operating cost is the driving factor behind JetSuite’s move, said Kumar. Zunum is projecting direct operating costs of 8 cents per seat mile, 60-90% lower than competing turboprops, with battery energy storage and electric motors reducing fuel burn and maintenance. Low emissions and noise are other factors, he said.

The aircraft is propelled by two rear-mounted ducted fans driven by electric motors. Electrical power comes from batteries and generators driven by a single turboshaft engine, producing 1 megawatt of power. The turbogenerator recharges the batteries in cruise. The aircraft can fly on the turbogenerator alone if there is a battery failure, Kumar said.

Zunum is building the first prototypes of its internally developed motor and fan for ground testing later this year. The company is acquiring a small business jet that will be modified into a flying testbed for the propulsion system. This is on track to fly in mid-2019, said Kumar.

The testbed will fly initially with one half of the electric drivetrain, retaining the original turbofan on the other side for safety. Over several iterations, the aircraft will be upgraded with the full propulsion system, complete with turbogenerator and both ducted fans.

This testbed will be used to obtain FAA Part 33 certification of the hybrid-electric powertrain ahead of certification of the aircraft, said Kumar. Zunum has issued several requests for information to industry to provide the turbogenerator, other elements of the propulsion system and aerostructures.

Once deliveries begin, Zunum plans to work with JetSuite to identify “lighthouse” routes and airports where it will deploy personnel to support the introduction of this new class of aircraft. “It does not require a lot of infrastructure,” Kumar said, noting that battery charging is coming from the electric vehicle market.

Kumar said there is “significant interest” in the hybrid-electric aircraft from a variety of customers, including traditional operators, potential startups and private owners. “We are excited by the level of interest it has generated,” he said.

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