Electric vehicles are all the rage. Of course, vehicles is a broad term, and aside from Elon Musk’s latest and Ford’s electrified F1 series, there’s growing investor interest in the wider world of promising electric means of transport.
Case in point: Beta Technologies, which announced a $375 million B round fundraise on Wednesday. The company specializes in electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, or eVTOL. We do expect a better acronym to come along sooner rather than later.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s… an eVOTL?
So what in the wild blue yonder is an eVTOL? Anderson Cooper asked the same question this weekend on 60 Minutes. Essentially, eVTOLs are small battery-powered aircraft that can takeoff and land vertically, like helicopters (and will likely utilize plenty of existing helipads). The ALIA-250 does feature two plane-like wings, although not all eVTOLs are alike. Cooper compared his eVTOL joyride to riding inside a giant drone.
Optimists believe eVTOLs could transform short-distance air travel. Beta’s flagship model can seat five passengers plus a pilot, carries up to 1,400 pounds of cargo, and can traverse a distance of 250 miles at 170 m.p.h after less than an hour of charging. That means getting from D.C. to New York in about 80 minutes. The startup has raised nearly $800 million in funding to date, including a Series A backed by Amazon last year, and aims to earn FAA certification by 2024. It’s already landed a handful of high-profile commercial contracts, mostly in the cargo sector:
- UPS has ordered 10 ALIA-250 machines, with an option for 140 more, and reserves the right to buy Beta charging stations; the shipping firm views eVTOL as a means to improve small-market service while reducing emissions.
- Blade, the Uber-but-with-helicopters service, purchased five units last year, with an option for 20 more.
Meanwhile, biotech firm United Therapeutics, founded by Beta director Martine Rothblatt, plans to use the aircraft to transport between-donor-and-recipient human organs.
Boarding Soon: It’s not just electric quasi-helicopters that are taking to the skies. Traditional planes (with tails and wings and a need for runways) are embracing the battery-powered future. On Tuesday, Arlington, Virginia-based Eviation Aircraft inked a deal to sell 75 of its electric commuter airplanes — which seat nine passengers and produce no carbon emissions — to regional airline Cape Air. If your next quickie flight is battery powered, don’t be shocked.