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UPS is testing electric helicopter mail carriers

The deal puts sustainability front and center for the mail company.

UPS is testing electric helicopter mail carriers
[Photo: courtesy of UPS]
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United Parcel Service is gathering a fleet of 10 electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft—or eVTOLs—which will eventually be deployed to small and medium-sized markets across the country.

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The Atlanta-based company said Wednesday that the aircraft will be manned by its Flight Forward division, which was launched in 2019 with the goal of piloting America’s first drone delivery network. The new program will feature eVTOLs akin to a hybrid airplane-helicopter, built by Vermont-based manufacturer Beta Technologies. Pending certification by the Federal Aviation Administration, an initial order of 10 eVTOLs is expected to arrive by 2024, with a contract allowing for the purchase of up to 150 eVTOLs in total.

[Photo: courtesy of UPS]
EVTOLs, which are more nimble than conventional airplanes, can take off and land directly at UPS facilities rather than relying on airport bases—a characteristic that could “unlock new business models that don’t exist today,” Bala Ganesh, a vice president at UPS, told CNBC.

For example, it could speed deliveries to hard-to-reach communities: “You can see a future where it’s carrying, let’s say 1,000 pounds, 1,500 pounds to rural hospitals” and landing on a helipad, said Ganesh. “We’ve also thought about for some urgent moments, like for example bypass New York traffic, and then move it [directly into] our 43rd Street building so that we can get around congestion.”

[Photo: courtesy of UPS]
The eVTOLs are equipped with landing pads and rechargeable batteries, which can fuel an aircraft for 250 miles flying at 170 miles per hour at a time.

The deal puts sustainability at the fore for UPS, which early last year invested in 10,000 electric vehicles from British automaker Arrival. In its 2020 annual report, the mail carrier said it would aim to curb greenhouse gases from its ground business by 12%, and meet 25% of its electric needs with renewable resources by 2025. Its new eVTOL charging stations will tap used aircraft batteries that are no longer optimal for flight, and will also be compatible with its fleet of electric vehicles.

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“We’re combining simple, elegant design and advanced technology to create a reliable aircraft with zero operational emissions,” Beta Technologies founder Kyle Clark said in a statement. According to UPS engineering executive Juan Perez, those technologies will “serve as a foundation for future solutions to reduce the emissions profile of [UPS’s] air and ground operation.”