UPS is purchasing ten Alia-250c electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft made by Beta Technologies through its subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward.
The company expects the aircraft to enable faster delivery times and support its efforts to reduce overall emissions, particularly for “time-sensitive deliveries that would otherwise fly on small fixed-wing aircraft,” according to a press release.
The first ten aircraft are scheduled to arrive by 2024, assuming the model is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). UPS also has options for up to 150 more.
Unlike the Matternet M2 drones that UPS Flight Forward is already using to transport medical shipments, the Alia-250c is piloted, and will be designed and built by Vermont-based Beta Technologies. It has a payload capacity of 1,400 pounds (635kg), a 250-mile (400km) range, and can reach speeds up to 170mph (270 kph).
UPS will test the aircraft in its Express Air delivery network, aiming to replace small feeder planes with a capacity of 500 to 3,000 pounds, according to CNBC. The drone’s vertical takeoff and landing capability eliminates the need for airports and runways, allowing it to land directly at UPS facilities. UPS expects this to reduce transit time and operating costs.
The drone is powered by an electric battery that can be recharged in fifty minutes with Beta’s Rapid Charging System. UPS will use a network of these charging stations, currently only located in the Northeast of the U.S. UPS told Cargo Facts that it “expect[s] to deploy the Beta eVTOLs wherever [needed], not limited to any particular area of the country,” and that it will have the “necessary charging capacity to go along with the aircraft.”
Once a battery’s first lifecycle is used up, it can be fixed to a charging station to charge the aircraft’s onboard battery. The battery can also recharge UPS’s ground electric vehicles.
“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,” said UPS chief information and engineering officer Juan Perez, in the release.
The FAA awarded Part 135 certification to UPS Flight Forward in late 2019, enabling the company to operate its drones beyond line of sight.
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