It probably comes as no surprise that a UPS eVTOL would cater to package delivery. Considering the market potential of drones and other eVTOL, it’s amazing that this idea hasn’t fully taken off yet.
Let’s look at what a UPS eVTOL is, along with its competitors, to understand why we haven’t yet seen a full drone delivery service.
What is the UPS eVTOL?
The UPS eVTOL isn’t a drone, as you might expect. Instead, the company is partnering with American firm Beta Technologies to produce electric delivery airplanes. As we’ve discussed in another article, Beta is focusing on long-range eVTOLs, which is why they appeal to UPS.
The aircraft has a range of 250 miles on a single charge and a cruising speed of up to 170mph. On top of this, it has a cargo capacity of 1,400lbs. Unlike UAMs, the UPS eVTOL will have a pilot, whose weight is included in the overall payload capacity. Even so, that’s a lot of room for parcels.
UPS signed a deal with Beta Technologies in 2021 for up to 150 eVTOLs starting in 2024. This is roughly when all eVTOL companies will begin commercial operation, as most are still lacking airworthiness certifications from the FAA.
How Will the UPS eVTOL Work?
But what will the UPS eVTOL actually do that isn’t already being done?
The UPS eVTOL will transport packages that would traditionally be delivered by plane. This might include time-sensitive items, such as refrigerated goods, or deliveries to remote areas where flight is more convenient.
Of course, these can be (and already are) done by normal aircraft. The difference is that eVTOLs are more environmentally-friendly and, for the most part, more convenient.
Whereas an airplane needs a runway, eVTOLs can theoretically take off from anywhere, and vertically, too. It means they can land in tighter spaces and don’t need existing infrastructure. While this might not sound like the biggest benefit, it theoretically means UPS will be able to access new markets that were previously restricted by a lack of runways.
It’s also worth looking at it more from the sustainability perspective. UPS is currently switching its ground fleet to electric vehicles, so it makes sense that it would do the same for its air fleet. Of course, it won’t yet be able to switch its large cargo planes to electric options, but that might be possible in the future with hydrogen aircraft.
Pros and Cons of the UPS eVTOL
For the most part, there aren’t really any downsides to switching to electric aircraft. That said, there are some limitations. Let’s go over the main pros and cons of the UPS eVTOL to see whether it’ll actually be a groundbreaking switch.
1. More sustainable
An electric aircraft is a more sustainable option than a fuel-powered one. Engine fuel is a finite resource, whereas electricity produced by a renewable source is, well, renewable. Considering the global shift away from fossil fuels, it’s something of a no-brainer for such a massive delivery company.
2. Opens up new markets
In theory, moving to a vertical takeoff aircraft could open up more remote markets. However, this might not be as clear-cut, considering many of these will already have runways. What’s more, airplanes are more resilient to weather conditions than eVTOLs, at least for now.
3. Serves as a use-case
Opinion is still divided on whether eVTOLs will be as revolutionary as some claim. After all, they’re limited by current technology and aren’t super practical compared to existing transport options.
But if a company like UPS adopts an eVTOL delivery service, and it works, it could serve as a push for other companies to jump on board.
1. Limited range
The UPS eVTOL has a range of 250 miles. In real terms, that’s roughly LA to Fresno. As you can imagine, that’s not amazing for a national delivery company. To compensate, the eVTOL would have to land while it still had reserve charge to swap batteries.
Hopefully, battery technology will improve to the point that the UPS eVTOL could fly 500 miles or more on a single charge.
2. Sensitivity to weather
As mentioned, eVTOLs have problems with weather. In fact, some designs are so sensitive they can’t even deal with wind around buildings. This could be a massive issue if the UPS eVTOL is meant to serve remote communities, many of which could be cut off by bad weather.
Competitors in the Drone Delivery Sector
Despite the UPS eVTOL still being a plan, other companies have leapt on the idea of a drone delivery service. Many use small UAVs/drones rather than piloted eVTOLs. As such, they’re already in use or are at least further into their testing phase.
Here are some of the most notable competitors to UPS’s delivery eVTOL.
Of course Amazon is already in the drone delivery market. Its Amazon Prime delivery drone will get a package to a customer within 30 minutes, providing it’s 5lbs. or less. This will be a pretty good service, although it could lead to skies full of drones if you think about how many packages the company delivers each day.
In the UK, the national postal service, Royal Mail, is testing delivery drones. Its service will specifically target remote areas that it typically can’t reach with its normal options. Drones will be autonomous and will carry up to 220lbs. of mail each trip. The company has already done tests between mainland Scotland and the Isles of Scilly.
You can check out this video to see the drone in action.
Wing is an offshoot of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. It’s basically the same model as Amazon Prime, but is partnered with FedEx, making it a direct competitor to UPS. Wing started testing during the COVID pandemic, and reached 200,000 deliveries by March 2022.
Final Thoughts on the UPS eVTOL
While the UPS eVTOL might not be the most revolutionary concept, it could prove to be exactly the change the delivery industry needs. Getting such a global player on board will hopefully be a proof of concept that confirms eVTOLs could make an impact on the wider transport sector.