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Big Brown continues greening fleet, buying Beta Technologies electric planes

UPS will acquire 10 electric aircraft to start, with an option to acquire up to 150 aircraft in all

UPS Flight Forward has an option to buy up to 150 electric aircraft that can transport up to 1,400 pounds of cargo each from Beta Technologies. (Photo: UPS)

UPS (NYSE: UPS) will take delivery of 10 Beta Technologies electric aircraft for use in small and midsize markets, with an option to purchase up to 150 of the planes in all.

The package giant, which already has more than 12,000 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles in its global fleet, with an order for 10,000 electric delivery vans from Arrival (NASDAQ: ARVL), will receive the first batch of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in 2024. The planes are being purchased for the UPS Flight Forward subsidiary.

“This is all about innovation with a focus on returns for our business, our customers and the environment,” said Juan Perez, UPS chief information and engineering officer. “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.”

Beta’s aircraft are rated for 1,400-pound cargo capacity and can be used to move time-critical goods. UPS plans to use the aircraft in smaller communities to help service areas where it currently uses small fixed-wing aircraft. The aircraft are expected to have a range of up to 250 miles and a cruising speed of 170 miles per hour.

In March, Beta completed a test flight from Plattsburgh, New York, to the company’s headquarters in Burlington, Vermont. The plane was piloted by test pilot Camron Guthrie, who climbed to 8,000 feet along the route. The aircraft, nicknamed Alia, has a wingspan of 50 feet and can be recharged in about 50 minutes. Each aircraft can have up to five battery packs installed.

Beta will supply a recharging station as part of the deal with UPS. The charging station will also allow batteries to have a second life. UPS said the batteries can be installed in the charging station to recharge the aircraft or electric ground vehicles.

Read: UPS certified for unlimited drone operations

Beta is designing the aircraft to ultimately fly autonomously as technology and regulations allow.

“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.”

UPS Flight Forward was the first to receive Federal Aviation Administration Part 135 Standard air carrier certification to operate a drone airline. UPS first launched drone deliveries in North Carolina with Matternet, a California-based autonomous drone startup.  

UPS Flight Forward is authorized to fly payloads up to 7,500 pounds either with an operator or autonomously.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected].