South Burlington-based startup Beta Technologies has a deal with United Parcel Service to sell up to 150 of its experimental electric aircraft to the logistics company.
The agreement announced on Wednesday is a milestone for the Vermont company and for the emerging industry of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs, which promises to reduce fuel emissions and enable new methods of transport.
“A purchase order from UPS really gives the team here, who's really focused on the mission of the business, an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the sustainability of aviation in the future,” founder and CEO Kyle Clark said in an interview.
UPS intends to use the aircraft for express delivery services in small- and mid-size markets, the company said in a press release, as part of an effort to transition away from fossil fuels.
Using four lift propellers and one “pusher” propeller, Beta's "Alia" aircraft takes off vertically, like a drone, and flies forward like a fixed-wing plane. The company says it will be able to travel 250 miles on a charge and carry up to 1,400 pounds of cargo. It can be charged in an hour or less.
The first 10 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in 2024. UPS has an option to purchase up to 150, according to the release. The deal allows UPS to use Beta's recharging infrastructure, which can be used to extend the aircraft's range.
The company's "Alia" prototype made its local debut last summer, when a massive helicopter airlifted it from company headquarters at Burlington International Airport to its testing facility at Plattsburgh International Airport. Clark said test pilots performed fixed-wing handling and other checks on the other side of Lake Champlain under an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Last month, the prototype flew back to Burlington for the first time on its own accord, making Beta the first eVTOL company to graduate beyond phase one flight testing, Clark said.
Additional testing is now being conducted out of Beta’s headquarters at BTV.
“It's really birthing green aviation in Burlington,” Clark said.
Clark founded Beta Technologies in 2017, backed by former Sirius Satellite Radio founder Martine Rothblatt, the Drive reported in 2019. Rothblatt now runs United Therapeutics, which is developing man-made organs, and sees air taxis as the best way to transport them to hospitals for human transplant.
The deal with UPS is just one sign of the company’s rapid growth in a competitive, emerging field. Clark said the company has sealed a few other deals that it’s not yet willing to disclose.