Artist’s rendering of a new UPS aircraft.
United Parcel Service is taking package delivery to new heights, literally, with the purchase of 10 electric vertical take-off and landing planes from Beta Technologies.
In an announcement Wednesday, Atlanta-based UPS said it will test eVTOLs for use in its Express Air delivery network, focusing on small and medium markets. The company will operate the eVTOLs under its Flight Forward division, which is also exploring drone delivery.
The new type of aircraft, which looks like a cross between an airplane and a helicopter, “unlocks new business models that don’t exist today,” Bala Ganesh, vice president of UPS’s Advanced Technology Group, told CNBC. “For example, you can see a future where you take, say, 1,000 pounds, 1,500 pounds to rural hospitals” and land on a helipad rather than an airport.
Vermont-based Beta Technologies will design and manufacture the eVTOLs, which will be delivered to UPS in 2024, pending certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Beta will also provide landing strips and rechargeable batteries. UPS has the option to purchase up to 150 more eVTOLs. The price of the transaction was not disclosed. EVTOLs can fly up to 250 miles at 170 mph on a single charge.
“We’ve also thought about some urgent times, like, for example, avoiding New York traffic and then moving it directly to our 43rd Street building to avoid congestion,” Ganesh said. “It’s not going to be suitable for all packages, but for certain use cases – willingness to pay and urgency, we might think about going to those areas.”
EVTOLs would be used similarly to small fixed-wing aircraft that have a capacity of 500 to 3,000 pounds. UPS said it initially plans to use them in smaller markets and create a series of short routes or a long route to meet customer needs. EVTOLs will have an operational advantage over small planes, according to Ganesh, because they are designed to accommodate shipping containers, allowing for faster movement of packages in many cases.
“The smaller planes are generally not in containers. They don’t have any kind of container, so a package is loaded onto these planes, then it lands, and then it has to be unloaded, loaded onto a truck or other vehicle and then driven to another location, appealed again, reloaded in the package car that delivers it, “Ganesh said.
Beta Technologies founder Kyle Clark said his team has worked with UPS to help transform the way the company handles packages on the move.
“We are combining a simple and elegant design and advanced technology to create a reliable aircraft with zero operational emissions that will revolutionize the way cargo moves,” Clark said in a statement. “By utilizing vertical takeoffs and landings, we can convert relatively small spaces in existing UPS installations into a micro air feed network without the noise or operating emissions of traditional aircraft.”
Sustainability has become increasingly important since Carol Tome became CEO of UPS last June. In its 2020 annual report, UPS said its goal is to reduce greenhouse gases from its ground business by 12% and supply 25% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025.
UPS announced in January 2020 a commitment to purchase up to 10,000 electric vehicles from Arrival Group, which is headquartered in London and Charlotte, North Carolina. EVTOL batteries will also be compatible with those vehicles. Even when the first life cycle of batteries in aircraft ends, they can still be used in electric vehicles.
“It just creates easier operating models, making things easier to implement and manage as we go along,” Ganesh said, “creating new ways of managing that give us more flexibility and optimally lower our costs. “.