This story appears in the July 2018 issue.
As experimental prototypes, electric airplanes have been around for decades. But the nagging question remains: Will they ever be commercially viable?
Zunum Aero thinks so. It has 20 full-time employees and 20 contract workers spread across facilities in Kirkland (software operations) as well as Chicago and Indianapolis (electric manufacturing and propulsion work.) The company recently received its first order from charter jet operator JetSuite, and it expects to employ about 100 by the end of this year.
“We’re in the middle of a hiring ramp,” says CEO Ashish Kumar, who cofounded the Kirkland company with Mike Knapp. Their wives introduced them to each other after discovering that both husbands had an interest in electric airplanes.
Knapp, an engineer with a master’s degree from MIT, had worked as an aeronautical engineer for two local plane design firms that had struggled financially. He was intrigued by the role electric planes could play in reducing greenhouse gases. Kumar was a former aeronautical engineering professor at Brown University who had worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. and moved to Seattle to handle global sales and marketing for Microsoft. He liked the idea of developing a hybrid-electric passenger airplane that could use traditional fuel as a backup.