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IIT-Delhi engineer developing hybrid regional plane in US


IIT-Delhi engineer developing hybrid regional plane in US

NEW DELHI: A mechanical engineer from IIT Delhi is on his way to develop hybrid planes in the US and hopes to sell the same in India for about 1,100-km-long regional flights by early 2020s. Ashish Kumar, CEO and founder of Kirkland (Washington)-based Zunum Aero, is developing regional hybrid-electric aircraft whose range will go up to 1,600 km by 2030.

"Boeing and JetBlue (via JetBlue Technology Ventures subsidiary) are backing us. We will first come out with a sub-20 seater hybrid aircraft. We hope to have the first prototype flying in two years and begin commercial production in early 2020s," Kumar, a PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Cornell University, told TOI.

"Our planes will be way cheaper for airlines to operate. They will not go as high as commercial aircraft due to the distances they will be covering. While they will be slower than other planes, their ability to land at airstrips closer to final destination will significantly reduce door-to-door time for flyers," said Kumar.

Founded in 2013, 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.

"The shift of the industry to large aircraft and long ranges driven by gas turbines has concentrated almost all air traffic to just one percent of our airports, creating a massive transport gap over regional distances where there is no high-speed alternative. Hybrid propulsion is an industry-changing solution, enabling mid-sized aircraft on regional routes to have better cost efficiencies than airliners," he said.

The hybrid planes, Zunum claims, will have 80% lower emissions. The low operating cost of these planes, Kumar says, will allow airlines to offer cheap fares. "We are looking at India in a big way," he said.

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