UPS buys an electric aircraft fleet

Electric planes are the future of air transport, whether for passengers or freight. Express mail company UPS is joining the queue, with 150 electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, known as eVTOL, under option with US company Beta Technologies.

The first 10 aircraft are due to arrive in 2024 at the earliest and will be operated in UPS’s Flight Forward drone division. The company has chosen the ALIA-250 electric aircraft, which has a payload capacity of 635 kg, a range of 402 kilometres and a transport speed of 274 km/h.

“These new aircraft will bring more efficient operations to our business, open up new service opportunities and will form the basis for future solutions to reduce emissions from our air and ground operations,” said Juan Perez, UPS’s chief information and technical officer.

The aircraft has a passenger version with six seats and a cargo version with 5.7 cubic metres of cargo space. Four fixed pitch vertical propellers serve for lift, and a thrust propeller at the tail for horizontal travel. Battery charging time is 1 hour.

UPS aims to “expand air services to certain small and medium-sized outsourced markets.” The planes will fly between UPS locations, allowing for a faster and cheaper way to deliver packages to smaller markets, the company said.

“We can convert the relatively small areas available at existing UPS sites into a micro air-supply network without the noise or operational emissions burden of conventional aircraft,” said Kyle Clark, founder and CEO of Beta.

When the batteries in the direct-drive electric propulsion system’s air-cooled motors need charging, the aircraft can land on a multi-function charging pad, which includes a control centre and rest area below the landing deck. The Beta aircraft completed its first 50-kilometre test flight in March.

In 2019, the US Federal Aviation Administration issued UPS Flight Forward a Part 135 certificate of operation to conduct over-the-horizon, revenue-generating package delivery flights using drones. The department currently operates the M2 quadrocopter drone, which can carry a payload of 2.26 kg.

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