“Tesla of the Air”: Startup Airline Debuts During Wild Week in Air Travel

It’s been a busy week for air travel, between the uproar over the incident in which police officers dragged a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines plane and the FCC dropped its proposal to allow in-flight calls. So it’s interesting that this week also saw the announcement of a new airline startup that’s trying to push a very different model of air travel: Zunum Aero.

According to the airline’s website, which just went live Wednesday, the startup would largely eschew the traditional hub-and-spoke model, in which the vast majority of flights are routed through a handful of major hub airports. (For example, Delta’s Atlanta hub, which was shut down last week by a series of record thunderstorms, is among the busiest airports in the world.) Instead, Zunum Aero would fly a fleet of small, hybrid electric planes between thousands of smaller airports nationwide.

“Electric aircraft of varying sizes are ideally suited to this critical need, requiring little support other than a GPS flightpath and a quick recharge or swap facility on the tarmac,” the airline wrote.

“The aircraft will operate point-to-point and as feeders to hub airports, in regional electric air networks,” an airline representative tells Travel Agent. “Zunum is solving for a vast unaddressed market created by a ‘transport gap’ which extends from somewhere over 100 miles to near 1,000 miles, where today there is no high-speed alternative.”

Currently there are not details on how flights would be distributed. 

In addition to being eco-friendly – the website claims that its hybrid electric aircraft will dramatically reduce emissions on short-haul flights – the airline also aims to make flying more convenient for travelers. One big change: the website says that travelers will be able to skip security checks by driving to the airfield with their luggage, leading to projected flying times like San Jose to Pasadena in two and a half hours – door to door.

According to the Washington Post, the startup is backed by some major established air travel companies. Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures, subsidiaries of Boeing and JetBlue, respectively, are both investors in the company.

“Think of it as Tesla of the air,” Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures, told the Post. “[Or] think of it as an electric bus in the air.”

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