Zunum Aero, an electric commercial airplane developer, has announced its partnership with Safran Helicopter Engines.

Zunum Aero Hyrbid propulsion system

Zunum Aero hyrbid propulsion system

One might wonder why an electric airplane company would partner with a helicopter engine designer and manufacturer. This is because the Zunum Aero ‘ZA10’ is actually a hybrid electric aircraft. While its motors are indeed electric, existing lithium-ion batteries simply cannot store enough energy to make the 12 passenger 700+ mile journey, so the ZA10’s electricity will partially come from an on-board jet-fuel powered electric generator. Zunum intends to make the transition to fully electric aircraft once battery technology to do so becomes feasible. For now, the use of the hybrid power train, supplied with Safran’s 1700 shaft horsepower engine, means an 80% cut in emissions, a 75% drop in cabin noise, and a 60-80% drop in energy cost as compared to traditional commercial aircraft. JetSuite has already committed to purchasing 100 ZA10’s, and the company will begin flight testing and the FAA certification in 2020.

Safran's Ardiden 3Z to be used in the Zunum Aero ZA10

Safran’s Ardiden 3Z engine to be used in the Zunum Aero ZA10

The announcement of this partnership on October 4th comes only a few days after the global aviation aviation innovation conference ‘Revolution.aero‘ in San Francisco, which both Zunum and Safran attended. While the topic of this conference was innovation in all sectors of aviation, a great deal of the conference focused mainly on Urban Air Mobility via eVTOLs. While the Zunum ZA10 is not an eVTOL, the hybrid electric technology it is developing is highly applicable to the industry. This is especially true considering that eVTOLs of higher passenger capacity are more economically efficient, and may require hybrid systems. The conference speakers talked greatly about this idea, as well as these other key points:


The emotions around autonomous aircraft–How can we get the public to accept autonomy?

  • Martin Seif – Co-Founder – Anxiety and Depression Association of America spoke about his “Freedom to Fly” which is the largest program in the US for people who are afraid to fly. –The “Anxiety of ignorance”
  • 70% of people have fears around flying, about 20% have fear that interferes with their flight habits. 
  • The main problem is anticipatory anxiety: “the fear one experiences before something”. People deal with this by talking to the flight creq, flying widebody, or upgrading seats. 
  • Exposure is the active therapeutic ingredient in overcoming a fear of flight. 


Why hasn’t Uber for private jets happened yet?

      • The supply challenge-unlike cars, most private aircraft aren’t owned by their operators.
      • The regulatory challenge–how to get FAA on board.
      • The payment challenge–while an Uber transaction is $13 on avergage private jets are on average $22,600 dollars which requires 72 hours of advance processing. 
      • “Technology is not the solution to all aviation problems”. Interesting new business models will drive these changes, -Per Marthinsson – Founder of Avinode


  • Big OEMs aren’t afraid of new energy source innovations“Moving more people through the air is better for me”–Jon Raviv – Citigroup
    • Russia, China, Mitsubishi are making strides. They need to tie build an ecosystem around these airplanes to be successful, and tie the business to someone in the industry with deep pockets to fund certification process. –John Stack, The McLean Group
  • Insurability:
    • Edward Gross, Shareholder at Vedder Price: One crash with a loss of life could mean the end of business but “All things are insurable if you want to pay the price”. What price this might be is yet unknown for the UAM space


XTI Tri-Fan 600 (Bob Labelle – CEO XTI Aircraft)

  • UAM will be both intra-city and inter-city
  • There’s a new market emerging with no preferred solution provider yet.
  • The XTI Tri-Fan 600 is built for 500 nautical-mile commutes. It has 1,100 shp engine with vertical mode supplemented by a battery pack. Four pillars of the competitive model: price ($8million), low operating cost (35 gallons per hour), high cruising altitude, 6-9 passengers. 
  • $400 million in sales  in US, Brazil, Australia, Europe, Japan, and more. Prototype scheduled to fly in October 2018.


Airbus and the upcoming UAM revolution


  • Voom Helicopter Taxi service by Airbus in São Paulo start to prove the business model.
    • Now is the right time for UAM because these technologies:
      • IDEP (integrated distributed electric propulsion)
      • Advanced Avionics, UTM (unmanned traffic management) software, and autonomy developments
      • Connected Passengers
      • Growing infrastructure support
    • A^3 project was setup in 2015, which includes the Airbus Vahana, Voom, and Altiscope – NextGen UTM.
    • UAM systems will need to be localized, not global. And Human Air Traffic controllers are not scalable. – Uma Subramanian, Voom.flights


Rob Wiesenthal – Founder/CEO – Blade


  • Closest thing to on-demand7AM to 8PM guarantee a helicopter in 20 minutes
  • Flights from Blade Lounge in downtown Los Angeles to LAX International Airport are only $20 more expensive than UberBlack, and are 40 minutes faster.
  • 170,000 users to date
  • Blade has Partnered with Colony Capital and Airbus. 


Ben Marcus of Airmap, one of the forefront UTM developers based in Santa Monica, California, spoke about the future of air traffic control.




Posted by Naish Gaubatz

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