Boeing Launches VC Division, Invests in Electric Airplane Developer

Chicago-based aerospace company Boeing has formed a small venture-capital division called HorizonX to “turn new ideas and businesses into reality” – among them, a pioneering enterprise to develop a small hybrid-electric aircraft that would be suitable for regional consumer travel, “out to a thousand miles,” and that could be built “by the 2020s.”

Boeing has been joined by JetBlue Airways in investing in three-year-old Zunum Aero, based in Kirkland, Washington – a disruptive start-up that Forbes has characterized as “the Tesla of aircraft.”

Zunum’s idea is to create a series of aircraft that can run off of a variety of electrical sources, according to a Forbes report on April 6 – thereby substantially reducing the cost of air travel and the carbon footprint that goes along with it. (The company claims that 40 percent of all airline pollution comes from regional flights).

With initial funding from Boeing and JetBlue, Zunum plans to start by developing smaller, 10-passenger aircraft and then scaling up the airframes as technology improves. By taking advantage of smaller regional airports, the company also claims that further savings can be offered to passengers, potentially pushing down the cost of regional flights to a $100 round trip.

According to an April 5 report by The Seattle Times, HorizonX will be based at Boeing headquarters in Chicago, with 30 to 40 dedicated staff.  Steve Nordland, who has been appointed to lead the VC division after helming Boeing’s drone company InSitu since 2008, told the newspaper that it would invest “tens of millions of dollars per year” in companies that have interesting

“We’re trying to look well beyond the horizon,” Nordlund told the local news outlet, identifying specific areas of interest as autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and additive manufacturing.

The amount Boeing invested in Zunum Aero was not disclosed.

Nordlund said Boeing believes “there is a place for electric hybrid propulsion in the future of aviation.”

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