When it comes to delivering packages, what’s not to love about quiet, fast, cheap and green?
That’s the thinking behind a new order partnership between UPS and Vermont-based Beta Technologies, that will bring at least 10 — and possibly up to 150 — state-of-the-art electric-powered vertical takeoff aircraft into the package delivery firm’s fleet starting in 2024.
In a joint press statement, the two companies said the aircraft would add flexibility and speed to the UPS network and open up previously impossible routes in small and medium-sized markets.
Because the rechargeable, emission-free electric aircraft is able to take off and land vertically without the need of a runway, and then swiftly transport 1,400 pounds of cargo up to 250 miles away, it is seen as a revolutionary step toward meeting the needs of time-sensitive delivery customers such as organ transplants.
“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.”
The Future Is Already Happening
While these electric aircraft might seem futuristic, the UPS Flight Forward aviation unit received the FAA’s first commercial delivery drone license in 2019 and has been testing unmanned drones with several corporate partners for years.
For example, last spring UPS and CVS launched a drone prescription delivery service at the largest retirement community in Florida. FedEx, Amazon, Walmart, Verizon and scores of other corporations from an array of industries are also actively perfecting their aerial delivery skills as they also contend with an increasingly stretched order fulfillment pipeline.
One Giant Leap
Although no terms were given surrounding the new order for what’s referred to as “eVTOL” (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft, UPS said it planned to deploy them in its Express Air unit and noted that they would take off and land on the company’s own property.
For its part, Beta Technology said the aircraft are currently being flown by a pilot but have been designed to ultimately operate autonomously and will do so once regulations are established.
In addition to the electric aircraft, Beta is also in the process of building-out a regional network of rapid charging stations for both private, stand-alone businesses like UPS, or on-site at select airports. However, unlike the familiar Tesla plug-in stations that are popping up at malls and other locations, the electric aircraft charging system equivalent is far more complicated. In fact, it’s large enough to land a small plane on.
“The multi-featured Charging Pad was designed, developed and deployed to include an elevated landing deck, hotel units for crew rest, and a control center for mission briefing,” Beta said, adding that thoughtful consideration was given to the needs of pilots and crews that may need workshop and maintenance space, a lounge area and short-term lodging.
In the meantime, Beta is continuing to run FAA test flights and said winning the first meaningful customer order in the electric-vertical aircraft segment would differentiate it from the competition.
“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 Technologies 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.”
Selected by EFXA