JetBlue Technology Ventures is preparing for changes in short-haul business models by investing in electric hybrid aircraft company Zunum Aero. Image via Zunum Aero

APEX Insight: At APEX TECH next week, JetBlue Technology Ventures’ managing director Raj Singh will give examples of how the startup incubator is preparing for technological disruption in air travel and encourage the industry to get ready for change, especially in the short-haul market.

Short-haul travel is ripe for disruption, according to JetBlue Technology Ventures’ managing director Raj Singh. The startup incubator is preparing for changes in short-haul business models by investing in Zunum Aero, an electric hybrid aircraft company aiming to democratize access to high-speed travel for distances of up to 1000 miles. In his presentation at next week’s APEX TECH, Singh will explain why the industry must take disruptive technology seriously. He’ll also suggest ways to prepare for a tech revolution in air travel, which will affect all phases of the airline passenger experience, from booking to boarding, including whether passengers board a plane as opposed to an autonomous connected vehicle.

What’s JetBlue Ventures all about? What’s the value in this effort for JetBlue?

JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV) is tasked with bringing strategic impact to JetBlue Airways through sourcing and investing in startups. We’re one of the ways that JetBlue looks for innovation, and our role is to bring innovation from the outside in. We look to invest in early stage startups (Seed and Series A) that have a solution in the travel, transportation or hospitality space that we can invest in, and learn from. Ideally, many of the companies will end up being suppliers to JetBlue, although that isn’t mandatory or immediate.

“We look to invest in early stage startups … that we can invest in, and learn from.”

Can you tell me about a truly innovative project or two that you’re cooking up?

We’re investing in Zunum Aero, an electric hybrid aircraft company that could be the solution to making general and business aviation available to a much broader group of people, as well as Recharge, a platform that allows people to use and share real estate such as hotel rooms in new business models.

What will you be talking about at APEX TECH in June? Why is this subject matter so important to the APEX community?

We see huge disruption coming to short-haul travel, and it’s important since it will potentially radically undercut the business models we rely on today. If there are viable, effective and well-priced alternatives to air travel for distances under 1000 miles, how will that affect our industry and its profitability?

Disruptive technology is pervasive in every industry these days. Are airlines particularly vulnerable to getting blindsided by new technologies?

I don’t believe we are especially vulnerable, but I do believe that our (necessary) focus on operational matters leaves us little time to contemplate the future, as well as the fact that innovation in our space has suddenly escalated, so in that sense, now is a very good time to imagine that disruption is on its way

Innovation in our space has suddenly escalated.

Which part of the airline passenger experience do you feel is ripest for a tech revolution?

All of it – from how a customer purchases and manages travel, to how you board a plane, how you spend your time there, and whether indeed you board a plane as opposed to an autonomous connected vehicle.

What are you going to tell the attendees of your session that they don’t already know? What’s the main point you want folks to walk away with?

They have probably heard a lot of this before. My message is that it is real, and around the corner, and now is the time to take this seriously, and to suggest some ways that they can do that.