Future of Air Travel: Electric Planes and Flying Cars

19 April, 2017

Major airplane manufacturers are now moving to develop the future of flight with electric planes and personal flying vehicles.

Boeing is one of those companies. It recently invested in Zunum Aero, a company working to build electric aircraft for commercial flights. Zunum is based in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington. It says it is hoping to revolutionize air travel by cutting flight times and greatly reducing costs.

By the early 2020s, the company plans to operate electric aircraft to carry 10-15 passengers on trips up to 1,100 kilometers. It says the cost of such flights could be as low as $25 each way.

Zunum noted on its website that while America has more than 13,500 airports, 97 percent of all air traffic goes through just 140 larger hubs. By traveling through smaller airports, passengers can greatly reduce door-to-door travel time and avoid long security lines.

JetBlue was another major company to invest in Zunum. The head of JetBlue's investment group, Bonnie Simi, said Zunum fits the airline's desire to "seek new technologies to change the game." She praised the company for developing "quiet, environmentally-friendly aircraft" for sustainable travel.

Washington state-based Zunum plans to operate electric aircraft to carry 10-15 passengers on short trips for as little as $25 each way. (Zunum Aero)
Washington state-based Zunum plans to operate electric aircraft to carry 10-15 passengers on short trips for as little as $25 each way. (Zunum Aero)

Zunum's planes will be powered by two large engines at the back. The aircraft will be "hybrid-electric," meaning they rely mostly on battery power, but also burn fuel when needed.

The goal is to eventually fly fully electric planes, although most experts believe this could take many years. This is because battery technology still has a long way to go to provide long-lasting power, but not be too heavy for the aircraft.

European-based Airbus is also working to develop electric and hybrid aircraft for short trips. The company's E-Fan project is experimenting with electric propulsion engines. These engines would turn clean-burning hydrogen fuel into electricity.

Earlier this year, Airbus announced plans to test a self-flying air taxi to transport people in the sky above busy city streets. Officials in Dubai said they would launch a pilotless air taxi sometime this year.

Airbus is also working on future self-driving personal flying vehicles. The company provided a first look at its concept car, called Pop Up, at the Geneva Motor Show last month.

The fully electric vehicle is designed to be used on the ground and in the air. Passengers ride inside a capsule that connects to a wheeled base to be driven on the street. The capsule can also be picked up by a drone-like flyer to transport passengers in the air.

It is not known how long it will take before Airbus is ready to start selling its Pop Up vehicle. But company officials said the technology could become a reality within 5-10 years.

Other companies have released plans to release flying cars a lot sooner than that. Slovakia-based engineering company AeroMobil is preparing to show the world its latest model this week.

The flying vehicle was designed to fully operate as both a car and aircraft. It runs on a hybrid engine that burns gas. The vehicle has wings that collapse for driving. Driver and pilot licenses will be required to operate the vehicle.

AeroMobil is showing the car at the Top Marques auto show in Monaco. No launch date or prices have been announced, but the company says it will be taking pre-orders this year.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

hub n. airport or city through which airlines send most of their flights

sustainableadj. able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed

hybridn. something formed by combining two or more things

propulsion n. force that pushes something forward

concept – n. created to test or show an idea or design

capsulen. small container that can be separated from other pieces