On April 20, JetBlue Technology Ventures announced that it has become a limited partner in the $6.8 billion investment fund TPG Rise Climate. The investment is the 38th that the venture capital arm of JetBlue has made since its founding in 2016. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke with JetBlue Technology Ventures president Amy Burr about this investment and about the organization’s strategies related to supporting the greening of aviation and overall innovation in the travel industry.
Q: How much will you invest in TPG Rise Climate?
A: We don’t typically publish how much we invest. We will do a capital infusion over the course of six years. And we expect to put in a sizeable check every single year. The amazing thing about this fund structure is that we’re here to be an investor, but we’re also part of their coalition that aims to be thought leaders in this space. So, we get to be a part of this amazing group of companies that are joining as limited partners to talk about the problems of sustainability, think about solutions and brainstorm the next generation of tech that will be important. An example is that we’re already talking about having a small sustainable aviation fuel coalition.
Q: Do you have an expectation that Rise Climate will be making significant investments in greening aviation?
A: Not just green aviation but green transport, of which aviation is a very large pillar. That’s why we’re really interested in the fund. And because a couple other very large aviation companies, Delta being the most obvious, are involved, as well, we feel very comfortable that they’re taking decarbonizing aviation very seriously.
Q: Can you give a rundown of the companies working on aviation emissions solutions that JetBlue Technology Ventures is already an investor in?
A: The first is Joby Aviation. They are building an electric vertical takeoff and landing (Evtol) aircraft. We have Universal Hydrogen, helping to figure out how to actually implement hydrogen within the aviation industry. We just invested in Electric Power Systems, which is modular battery power for electric aviation. They’re going to be the battery that allows electric aircraft and Evtols to fly efficiently. They also do quite a bit of infrastructure around charging. We also invested in Air Company, which is a direct air capture and fuel company. What they’re doing is carbon capture from the air and transforming it into multiple types of alcohol and fuel type products.
Q: Are there also companies the JetBlue Ventures tech fund has invested in that are doing work that is tangential to decarbonization?
A: I6 is a company that is digitizing the entire fueling process for the airline industry. One of the wins from I6 is that you are much more accurate in how much fuel you need and actually put on the aircraft, and as a result it really helps an airline fine-tune their fuel usage. The other company that is really exciting that we invested in recently is called Beacon AI, and they’re working on an AI assistance tool for the cockpit. The joking description of that is they’re R2D2 for a modern-day pilot. What their tool will do is help to determine more efficient routes and ways to avoid over-burning jet fuel.
Q: What are some of JetBlue Venture’s non-climate-related priorities?
A: An area that is foremost is customer journey. We think about how we can improve the entire customer journey from the moment you leave your home to the moment you return to your home.
We also focus on next generation aviation operations and enterprise tech. How can we improve things like tech ops, how we operate at the airport or safety? Also, can some big enterprise tech plays help JetBlue do its job better? Think cybersecurity and fraud protection, and customer support and self-service technology.
A third emphasis is reimagining the accommodation experience. The way we think about this particular theme is, how is hospitality changing over time? How will technology enable a more seamless experience for a customer? How is the short-term rental market changing the way people think about where and how they stay?
Finally, we focus on innovations in loyalty distribution and revenue. So, how can we have the next generation of loyalty programs using emerging tech?
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