UPS is jumping — or launching — into the future a bit faster. It has ordered electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft from the company Beta Technologies. (No relationship to Tesla Full Self-Driving Beta.)
The aircraft will be used in small & midsize markets, will land on UPS facilities themselves, and somehow helps healthcare providers — but we’ll come back to that.
It is actually a specific subsidiary of UPS, UPS Flight Forward, that placed the order. The eVTOL aircraft comes with 4 major benefits, 3 of which come with all electric vehicles:
- Cuts pollution immensely.
- Lowers operating costs.
- Super quiet.
- Reduces transit times.
Naturally, that 4th benefit comes from the unique nature of VTOL aircraft, assisted by the ability to take off from or land on roofs.
“The BETA aircraft’s 1,400-pound cargo capacity is ideally suited to more quickly and sustainably transport time-sensitive deliveries that would otherwise fly on small fixed-wing aircraft,” UPS writes. “UPS’s use of the aircraft will benefit healthcare providers, thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, and other companies in smaller communities. With a 250-mile range and cruising speed of up to 170 miles per hour, UPS will be able to plan a series of short routes, or one long route, on a single charge to meet customers’ needs.” That’s actually all that’s said about how theeVTOL aircraft will help healthcare providers, so it’s not clear why that is highlighted. Presumably, it’s just that UPS will more quickly be able to deliver packages in certain places, and I guess the fact that less pollution means better public health.
As usual, UPS gets some bonus greenie points for cutting emissions with electric transport, all the better that it’s fun headline-grabbing new air transport, but the company is also simply looking at its bottom line and finding ways to save money and to outcompete its rivals (for the time being). And UPS admits that. “This is all about innovation with a focus on returns for our business, our customers, and the environment,” said 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,” said 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.”
The Beta Technologies (BETA) aircraft uses 4 fixed vertical lift propellers and 1 pusher propeller to … propel it forward. BETA is also selling UPS a charging station to get a quicker charge while parked on the roof between shipments. The charging station can recharge the aircraft in less than one hour. Just enough time for the human workers to break a sweat loading or unloading packages. (That is, until robots handle that task as well.)
The eVTOL market is just barely starting to bud. It feels a bit like the electric car market a decade ago. There are numerous startups and some major aircraft companies that have their toes in the water, but no one is producing mass-market vehicles yet (that’s some years off still) and early models are essentially just nearing consumer sales. That makes it all the more exciting, though, when a major player like UPS orders some eVTOL aircraft.
The BETA eVTOL aircraft apparently aren’t yet capable of autonomous flight, but will be eventually. “BETA’s aircraft are designed to someday operate autonomously as technologies and regulations are established. UPS Flight Forward received the first U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 135 Standard air carrier certification to operate a drone airline, and is operating daily revenue-generating flights with drones. The FAA certification also enables UPS Flight Forward to fly payloads of up to 7,500 lbs. either with an operator or autonomously.”
10 BETA aircraft will be delivered in 2024, if all goes according to plan, and UPS has an option to buy up to 150 at the agreed upon terms.
Last year, UPS ordered 10,000 electric vehicles from EV startup Arrival as well.
FedEx, it’s your move now. What you got?