UPS plans to start deliveries via eVTOL in 2024
UPS has signed a deal to buy up to 150 eVTOL aircraft from Vermont's Beta Technologies, and is expecting to begin using them for time-sensitive zero-emissions deliveries in certain markets in 2024, taking off and landing on-site at UPS depots.
Beta's Alia aircraft is an interesting design inspired by the shape of the Arctic tern; a transitioning fixed-wing aircraft with four large, drag-minimizing VTOL props mounted on bars extending forward and backward from the wings, and a single pusher prop on the back for efficient cruising on the wing.
Charging up in just 50 minutes, the Alia-250c claims a huge 250 nautical mile (288-mile/463-km) range – as well as a decently quick cruise speed up to around 170 mph (270 km/h). The range figure in particular seems optimistic given current battery technology and the fact that the design doesn't seem to go too far out of its way in the name of efficiency, but I guess we'll see.
Beta is designing a five-passenger version it'll use as an air taxi, as well as another capable of carrying 200 cu ft (5.6 cu m) worth of cargo. Presumably this is the one UPS has signed up to buy, with an initial commitment of 10 aircraft at an undisclosed price, and a further option to take the total to 150.
UPS expects to have the first 10 Arias in 2024, assuming certification proceeds according to plan; Beta is already ahead of much of the market, with a full-size aircraft already flying under experimental classification – albeit without the vertical lift system operational, it would seem.
This is not an insignificant achievement, though, as evtol.com points out: "The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow experimental aircraft to fly beyond their base airports until they’re proven stable enough to do so, so [the Aria's recent flight between Plattsberg, New York, and Burlington, Vermont] represents that achievement and a closing of the initial phase of flight test."
Still, that doesn't guarantee that the process of eVTOL certification will be easy, or that the 2024 manufacturing timeline will happen. We'll have to wait and see.
UPS plans to build VTOL pads for these aircraft at certain depots, with charging infrastructure in place to keep them topped up. It plans to use them either on a single, long route or a series of shorter ones per charge, and a press release hints at where UPS feels they'll come in handy: "UPS’s use of the aircraft will benefit healthcare providers, thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, and other companies in smaller communities."
The battery packs, once they've outlived their safe lifespan in the eVTOL aircraft, will be recycled as buffers into the charging stations, or into UPS's fleet of electric vans and other ground vehicles.
“This is all about innovation with a focus on returns for our business, our customers, and the environment,” says UPS Chief Information and Engineering Officer Juan Perez. “These new aircraft will create operational efficiencies in our business, open possibilities for new services, and serve as a foundation for future solutions to reduce the emissions profile of our air and ground operation.”
“We’re combining simple, elegant design and advanced technology to create a reliable aircraft with zero operational emissions that will revolutionize how cargo moves,” adds BETA founder and CEO Kyle Clark. “By utilizing vertical takeoffs and landings, we can turn relatively small spaces at existing UPS facilities into a micro air feeder network without the noise or operating emissions of traditional aircraft.”
This kind of announcement, in recent months, has tended to come with luggage, in the form of a SPAC merger stock exchange listing. But we've combed over the press release, as well as Beta's website, and it doesn't seem the company is passing the collection plate around at this stage. So we can enjoy this news unencumbered.