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Electric Aviation Technology Gets a Big Push From Boeing & JetBlue

* Electric air travel may become a reality sooner than expected
* Inadequate battery technology has held back electric aviation development
* Boeing and JetBlue invested in Zunum’s hybrid jet technology research

Electric automobile technology has existed since the 1830s, but didn’t materialize into actuality until the 1990s. Jump forward to 2017 and there are more than one million electric vehicles on the road. The automobile industry’s continued commitment to engineering eco-friendly transportation has spread to the aviation industry as well. But while there are a few electric aircraft options in development, including Solar Impulse, there are currently no commercially viable options for electric air travel.

So when can we expect to see flying Teslas gliding through the skies? In short, it depends. Development of electric air travel has remained at a slow-paced largely because of inadequate battery life capacity. According to aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia, “The energy density for batteries isn’t high enough to even get a couple of people off the ground, let alone 30 or 40.” However, despite the fact that “aircraft efficiency improves by one percent every year, as it has every year for the last 60, since the dawn of the jet age,” he isn’t getting his hopes up too soon. He continues, “It will be very hard to suddenly generate double-digit improvements.”

Despite the limitations of current battery technology, electric air travel may become a reality sooner than expected, thanks to Boeing Co. and JetBlue Airways. The two companies have invested in an electric aircraft maker called Zunum, providing funding for the improved battery technology suitable to power a hybrid electric airplane, that may just solve the issues currently responsible for delaying electric aircraft from takeoff. European aircraft manufacturing company, Airbus has also set forth plans to develop hybrid aircraft that would be able to transport up to 100 passengers with a travel range of up to 620 miles. Unfortunately, Airbus predicts that their hybrid aviation planes won’t be available for travel until 2030.

A hybrid airplane would function in the same way as hybrid automobiles, such as the Toyota Prius and GM’s Chevrolet Volt. Hybrid planes would combine rechargeable battery power in addition to a supplementary tank for conventional fuel propulsion. The biggest incentives for spending the money on hybrid aircraft is reducing fuel costs (Airbus’s hybrid is expected to save up to 25% on fuel alone) and of course to inch closer to the ultimate goal — of developing zero-emission aviation.