Today: Jul 11 , 2020

Could a 'Hummingbird' Reinvent Commercial Air Travel at Prescott Airport?

07 April 2017  
Photos courtesy of Zunum Aero.

Right now, it’s a relatively new startup, with patents and technology that means its a few steps beyond a conceptual dream. It's called Zunum Aero. And it looks really cool. 

“Zunum” is a derivation of the Mayan word for hummingbird, “tzunuum”. Hummingbirds are small, fast and quiet, and that’s the kind of airplane the folks at Zunum Aero are planning. 

“We’re changing the way people travel,” is the bold promise on their website. 

The idea, as explained at The Verge, is a fleet of hybrid electric jets, aimed at service on densely traveled regional routes. With lower operating costs (after all, no fuel to purchase), it is suggested that fares could cost 40-80% less than current fares. It would be much quieter, something that passengers will appreciate. Zunum even anticipates that boarding planes would require less time to maneuver security checkpoints. 

Several models of hybrid-electric propulsion jets are on the drawing board. To start with, the first class of aircraft will be tiny, able to seat 10 passengers, and fly about 700 miles on a single charge. They are projected to “roll off the assembly line by the early 2020s,” The Verge reports. In another few years, Zunum hopes to build larger aircraft that could fly 1000 miles on a single charge with a capacity of up to 50 passengers. The aircraft design is meant to be future proof – able to stay in service for up to 30 years, and readily upgrade to the latest technology. 

So, could these planes find a spot at the Prescott Airport? 

To make it clear, this is not some secret project in the works being let out of the bag. It’s simply a consideration of emerging technology and thinking about how it would do in a place like Prescott. Just imagine being able to hop on a jet at the Prescott Airport and quickly get to Phoenix or the Bay Area in California. Perhaps you’d like to whiz over to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or Los Angeles. 

All of that would be do-able with a single charge in the Zunum. 

"The shift of the industry to large aircraft and long ranges driven by gas turbines has concentrated almost all air traffic to just two percent of our airports, creating a massive transport gap over regional distances where there is no high-speed alternative. As a result, door-to-door times for most journeys are no better than they were 50 years ago," said Ashish Kumar, CEO and founder, Zunum Aero. "Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners.”

City Manager Michael Lamar thinks this is the type of thing that could and should be explored. "It’s a more interesting and viable niche than some of the things we could do,” he said. "I think it has some potential. Trying to find creative aerospace opportunities and service deliveries could have a better chance of success in a community like Prescott." 

(Check out this distance calculator to find out how far various communities are from Prescott.)

Embry Riddle’s Chancellor Dr. Frank Ayers says that ERAU students are continually researching new kinds of aircraft and modes of flight. As stated in their 2015 Viewbook, "We live and breathe projects—a natural extension of our hands-on approach to learning. Students work in continuous collaboration as they research, design, build, and test ideas for a new hybrid aircraft engine, or for a better wind turbine for energy production. Often they work as part of a team, whether it’s performing aerodynamic experiments in wind tunnels..."

Ken Foote, recently appointed Vice-Chair of the City of Prescott’s Airport Advisory Committee, hadn’t yet read the details about the Zunum Aero startup, but he thinks ideas like this are intriguing. It’s not just runways and terminals that are important, he pointed out, it’s the number of enplanements. If that number goes up, so does the benefit to the entire community.

According to USA Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is scheduled to release a final round of regulations in 2018 aimed at spurring development of electric planes. 

One thing is certain, with an ever-advancing aerospace industry, what we fly on in 20 years could quite easily look a whole lot different than what is taking flight today. 

It just might resemble a hummingbird.

The Press Release

Zunum Aero Developing Hybrid-Electric Aircraft for Fast and Affordable Travel Up To 1,000 miles

Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures-backed startup offers flexible travel to thousands of communities starting in the early 2020s

SEATTLE, WA -- April 5, 2017 -- Zunum Aero, a pioneer in electric aviation, is developing regional hybrid-electric aircraft for the early 2020s, offering unmatched door-to-door speeds and reduced costs for flights from 700 miles at launch, to over 1,000 miles by 2030. Zunum Aero aircraft are designed to take aviation into the future: enabling frequent service to the nation’s network of over 5,000 underutilized regional and general aviation airports. These 10 - 50 seat aircraft will pave the way to a golden era of fast and affordable electric air travel, reversing the 70 year consolidation of air services. Zunum Aero is backed by Boeing (NYSE: BA) and JetBlue Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU); both believe that regional travel is ripe for transformation.

With multiple patented technologies already in place, Zunum Aero has designed an innovative class of hybrid-electric aircraft and is developing technologies to create a regional electric air network. These aircraft, as part of new regional electric air networks, will offer a fast, flexible and affordable alternative to highways and high-speed rail, operating point-to-point and as feeders to hub airports.

"The shift of the industry to large aircraft and long ranges driven by gas turbines has concentrated almost all air traffic to just two percent of our airports, creating a massive transport gap over regional distances where there is no high-speed alternative. As a result, door-to-door times for most journeys are no better than they were 50 years ago," said Ashish Kumar, CEO and founder, Zunum Aero. "Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners.”

By shifting traffic from hubs to regional airports, Zunum Aero is democratizing access to fast and affordable travel. Designing aircraft for walk-on, walk-off travel from nearby airports addresses the major pain points of modern air transit while filling a vast regional transport gap. For example, passengers can expect to travel from regional airports in the Boston area to Washington, DC for half the fare and in half the time it takes today door-to-door. For those on the West Coast, Silicon Valley to the LA area drops to two and a half hours door-to-door, from over five hours today, or to Lake Tahoe in just two hours at a fraction of today’s cost. Additional estimates of impact include: 

  • 40% decrease in door-to-door travel times on busy corridors, and by as much as 80% on less trafficked ones;
  • Much lower operating costs enabling fares 40% to 80% below current prices;
  • 80% lower emissions, dropping to zero over time as battery densities improve; and
  • 75% drop in community noise, opening up all-hours access to smaller airports.

Zunum Aero is three years into development with an experienced, multidisciplinary team across aircraft, aircraft engines and electric vehicle disciplines, including leaders of two flying electric vehicle programs and the leader of a NASA-funded program on drives for electric airliners.

In addition to backing by Boeing through its Boeing HorizonX innovation cell and JetBlue Technology Ventures, Zunum has a long-term partnership with the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems, an NSF Engineering Research Center at the University of Illinois, and a network of collaborators across leading Universities and government labs. The team has also been actively engaged with the FAA since 2014 to drive development of certification standards for electric aircraft. A complete set of standards for electric aircraft are expected by 2018, and the first electrics are likely to certify in 2020, in time for the first Zunum aircraft to roll off a production line. 

“Boeing HorizonX is investing in Zunum because we feel its technology development is leading this emerging and exciting hybrid-electric market space. This technology and customer approach has the potential to transform the market for small, short-haul aircraft that can use smaller regional airports,” said Steve Nordlund, Vice President, Boeing HorizonX. 

“At JetBlue Technology Ventures, our goal is to be part of a disruptive force rather than the one being disrupted and we seek new technologies that look to change the game,” said Bonny Simi, President, JetBlue Technology Ventures. “As a company that is also deeply committed to innovation in sustainable travel, we believe that Zunum and its quiet, environmentally-friendly aircraft will light up a vast network of underutilized airports and reinvent regional travel.”

About Boeing 

Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems. A top U.S. exporter, the company supports airlines and U.S. and allied government customers in 150 countries. Boeing products and tailored services include commercial and military aircraft, satellites, weapons, electronic and defense systems, launch systems, advanced information and communication systems, and performance-based logistics and training.

About JetBlue Technology Ventures

JetBlue Technology Ventures invests in, incubates and partners with early stage startups at the intersection of technology, travel and hospitality to improve the entire travel experience. The

company prioritizes investments that advance the customer-centric journey; technology empowered customer service; the future of operations and maintenance; revenue management, sales & distribution; and new regional transport ecosystems. Founded in 2016, JetBlue Technology Ventures is a wholly-owned subsidiary of JetBlue (NASDAQ: JBLU) and is located in Silicon Valley, Calif. For more information, visit

About Zunum Aero

Zunum Aero is building a family of commercial hybrid-to-electric aircraft designed for regional transit, and powered by quiet range-optimized powertrain and propulsion technologies. The company’s vision is to develop 1,000-mile electric air networks to bring fast and affordable travel to every community.   Founded in 2013, Zunum Aero is located in Kirkland, Washington. To learn more, visit

Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She will be leaving for new adventures on May 15, 2020.