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UPS Flight Forward Goes Electric With Vertical Aircraft Initiative

Through its UPS Flight Forward subsidiary, UPS Inc. plans to purchase electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft from Beta Technologies as part of its innovation-driven strategy to identify new ways to help small businesses with sustainable solutions.

With the capability to take off and land directly on UPS property, eVTOL aircraft are well suited for moving smaller loads that would otherwise fly to and from airports on small feeder aircraft or take even longer by ground, UPS noted.

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

UPS Flight Forward is scheduled to take delivery of its first 10 Beta eVTOL aircraft beginning in 2024, with the option to purchase up to 150 craft. The vehicle has a 1,400-pound cargo capacity, a range of 250 miles and zero operating emissions, according to UPS.

The company has reserved Beta’s recharging station for safe and rapid charging of the aircraft in under one hour to facilitate faster cargo loading and unloading. The charging station also offers the aircraft’s batteries a second life.

Last month, Beta’s Alia-250 prototype made a flight from its primary test location in Plattsburgh, N.Y., across Lake Champlain to the company’s headquarters in nearby Burlington, Vt. The company noted that the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow experimental aircraft to fly beyond their base airports until they’re proven stable enough, so the mission represents a closing of the initial phase of flight test.

After the batteries’ first lifecycle in the aircraft is over, they can be fitted to the charging station to recharge the aircraft’s onboard batteries, as well as UPS’s fleet of electric ground vehicles. UPS has more than 12,000 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles deployed worldwide, and is committed to purchase up to 10,000 electric vehicles from Arrival.

UPS is collaborating with Arrival to develop a wide range of electric vehicles with Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS). The technology is designed to increase safety and operating efficiencies, including the potential for automated movements in UPS depots.