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Zunum Aero planes
This artist’s conception shows two potential configurations for Zunum Aero’s hybrid-electric planes. (Zunum Aero Illustration)

Zunum Aero, a Bothell, Wash.-based startup building hybrid-electric planes backed by investors including Boeing and JetBlue, is facing financial trouble and laid off a majority of its staff, according to recent reports.

The Seattle Times reported this week that the company “has run of cash, and much of the operation has collapsed.” That followed a Forbes story citing similar issues, including a shutdown of the company’s Bothell headquarters and the layoff of nearly all 70 employees this past November. Forbes said the company is now seeking to raise a $50 million Series B round.

We’ve reached out to Zunum and will update this story when we hear back. Update: Zunum sent this statement from its founder and CEO Ashish Kumar:

“Like startups often have to do, we have been navigating a challenging period,” he said. “However, our team remains committed to a future with electric flight everywhere. We are a group of persistent problem-solvers and are continuing to make progress toward our goal.”

Founded in 2013, the company aimed to build high-tech aircraft for regional transit. The idea was to create routes that have fallen into disuse due to trends that have dominated the airline industry over the past few decades — trends that favor larger aircraft serving bigger airports.

Last year, Zunum said its first planes would go to JetSuite, a California-based private aviation company that’s a partner of JetBlue and just launched a Seattle-Oakland service. JetBlue invested in Zunum as part of its venture capital arm.

Zunum also landed an $800,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Clean Energy Fund.

Documents provided to GeekWire by the Department of Commerce from a recent quarterly report show that Zunum “has experienced delays in investor fundraising since October 2018 and is looking at up to 1 full year program delay at this point.”

This past October, Zunum said its development timeline called for ground and flight testing to start in 2019, with the certification process to begin in the 2020-2022 timeframe.

Zunum is led by Kumar, who was previously an executive at Microsoft, Google, and Dell. The startup is one of several working on all-electric or hybrid-electric aircraft for the regional market, including fellow Seattle-area company MagniX.

Boeing invested in 2017 via its HorizonX Ventures arm, but has since been focusing on other plays in electric propulsion, including its Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary.

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