In a bid to get that UPS package just a bit faster to your door, UPS is going vertical.
According to a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the American multinational shipping & receiving giant is ordering 10 highly advanced electric aircraft that are designed to take off and land like a helicopter, allowing it to fly cargo directly between its facilities in small markets and bypass airports.
The electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft made by Beta Technologies would be flown by an onboard pilot when UPS begins getting them in 2024, pending Federal Aviation Administration certification.
Burlington, Vermont-based Beta Technologies is conducting flight testing on the aircraft at a test facility in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
But the aircraft are designed to “someday operate autonomously” once the technology and regulations are developed, according to Sandy Springs, Georgia-based UPS, which did not disclose the purchase price.
UPS has an option to purchase an additional 140 aircraft. It plans “to take delivery and see how they perform within the network, and then move from there,” said UPS spokesman Matthew O’Connor.
The new type of aircraft, which looks like a cross between a plane and a helicopter, “unlocks new business models that don’t exist today,” Bala Ganesh, vice president of the UPS Advanced Technology Group, told CNBC.
“For example, you can see a future where it’s carrying, let’s say 1,000 pounds, 1,500 pounds to rural hospitals,” and landing on a helipad instead of an airport.
“We’ve also thought about for some urgent moments, like for example bypass New York traffic, and then move it into directly to our 43rd Street building so that we can get around congestion,” Ganesh said.
“It’s not going be a fit for all the packages but for certain use cases: Willingness to pay, and urgency, we could potentially think about going into those areas.”
The Beta eVTOL aircraft have a range of 250 miles on a single charge, and will be able to charge in an hour or less at charging stations that could also be used for electric ground vehicles.
They would have a cruising speed of up to 150 mph and produce zero emissions while operating.
They would be used to supplement cargo shipments in UPS’s small feeder air network, currently served by contract operators that use Beechcraft and Cessna 208 Caravan planes to fly cargo between small and medium-sized markets.
The eVTOLs will have an operation advantage over small planes, according to Ganesh, because they’re designed to accommodate shipping containers, which allow for faster movement of packages in many cases.
“The smaller aircraft typically are not containerized. They don’t have any kind of container, so it’s loading a package into these aircraft, then its lands, and then has to be unloaded loaded into a truck or another vehicle and then driven to another location, resorted again, reloaded into the package car that delivers it, ” Ganesh said.
Since the eVTOL aircraft would be able to take off and land at UPS facilities, the company would save the time and labor for loading and transferring at airports between planes and trucks that drive the packages to UPS facilities.
“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 in a statement.
“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.”
In recent years, UPS has also tested self-driving tractor-trailers and vans, ordered 10,000 electric delivery trucks and worked to develop electric vehicles capable of automated movement in UPS depots.
“It just creates easier operating models, which just makes things easier to deploy and manage as we move forward,” said Ganesh, “creating newer ways of handling which gives us more flexibility and optimally, reduces our costs.”
Meanwhile, in other news, Beta Technologies raised US$368 million in a private round of funding that was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company and Amazon’s Climate Fund.
The funds will support continued development of an integrated system for Electric Vertical Aviation, which will reshape how people and cargo move while reducing the environmental impact of aviation.
Sources: Seattle Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNBC, PR Newswire