Zunum's Electric Airliner Prospects Appear Increasingly Remote

 - August 22, 2019, 7:44 AM
Zunum Aero's prospects for flying and certifying the ZA-10 hybrid-electric airliner appears to have dimmed. (Image: Zunum Aero)

Prospects for Zunum Aero achieving a planned first flight for its ZA10 hybrid-electric airliner by the end of 2019 now appear very remote. The U.S. startup has spent the past 10 months trying to find new investors after early backers Boeing and JetBlue withdrew support last year.

This week, Zunum Aero told AIN that it had no update on the status of the program and efforts to attract fresh investment. Given the uncertainty, it appears unlikely the company will manage to stick to its goal of starting deliveries of the new aircraft in 2022.

In September 2018, Logan Jones, vice president of Boeing’s HorizonX “innovation cell,” quietly stepped down as the airframer’s representative on the Zunum Aero board—apparently signaling the end of Boeing’s backing for the company. On Wednesday, JetBlue Technology Ventures acknowledged that the U.S. airline group no longer has a representative on the Zunum board. “JetBlue Technology Ventures was an early-stage investor in Zunum, and as is the case with all our investments, we partner with startups to gain strategic insights into emerging technologies, like electric propulsion,” a spokesperson told AIN.

Safran Helicopter Engines, which Zunum Aero selected in October 2018 to provide a new 3Z version of its Ardiden turboshaft engine to power the ZA10’s electrical generator, has not abandoned the program. A spokesman told AIN that the French company has “slowed down” development of the Ardiden 3Z due to the financing “difficulties” its prospective partner faces.

Zunum introduced U.S. private charter operator JetSuite as the launch customer for the 12-seat ZA10 in May 2018, with an announcement calling for it to add up to 100 of the aircraft to its fleet. A spokesman for JetSuite this week told AIN that it had no comment to make about the status of the order.

Zunum Aero, founded by former Google executive Ashish Kumar, launched plans for the ZA10 aircraft in 2013, promising operating costs of just 8 cents per seat-mile, or $250 per flight hour. The company’s longer-term plans call for a larger, 48-seat version called the ZA50, which would reach the market around 2030.