New Electric Airplane for Package Delivery

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anorlunda
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My wife said that she saw a very strange aircraft yesterday being chased by a helicopter that appeared to be dangerously close. It was actually a crew making a promo film for a new electric airplane.
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We discussed electric airplanes last year in another thread. But that topic was very open.

I've been reading about a local (Burlington, Vermont) company that is ready to begin producing electric airplanes for sale. Their secret is that they found the niche where the advantages/disadvantages of their airplane meet a niche market's needs. Their market is package delivery, and they seek to make UPS, FedEx, and DHL their customers.

Beta Technologies' plane has both quad lifting propellers for vertical takeoff/landing, and a pusher propeller. It can fly for 60-90 minutes on one charge, recharge in 50 minutes, and carry 1500 pounds of cargo. Those specs indeed sound like a good match for package delivery.

The key to success in any innovative product design is to find a match between what you can actually do with someone who needs exactly that.

https://www.beta.team/aircraft/

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  • #2
Twigg
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Thanks for sharing!

It can fly for 60-90 minutes on one charge, recharge in 50 minutes, and carry 1500 pounds of cargo
I'd pay good money to see the battery in that sucker! Must be humongous. I wonder how many kilowatt hours are needed per full charge, and how often + how expensive battery replacements are. Probably not the biggest operating costs (I imagine the skilled labor for regular maintenance is the biggest cost?)
 
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anorlunda
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Thanks for sharing!


I'd pay good money to see the battery in that sucker! Must be humongous. I wonder how many kilowatt hours are needed per full charge, and how often + how expensive battery replacements are. Probably not the biggest operating costs (I imagine the skilled labor for regular maintenance is the biggest cost?)
This video talks about some details and it shows the battery packs.

 
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Who does this serve?
 
  • #6
Twigg
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Earlier today I watched a UPS guy just drop a package from 5ft so he didn't have to open a latched gate. Could you imagine the carnage if they had a fleet of these planes? :DD
 
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  • #7
256bits
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Who does this serve?
What do they say "Build it and they will come"!
I don't think they know themselves who the customers for the plane would be. Of the cuff, they mention some high profile courier services who run on volume rather than Super Express, although some niche market might materialize. So one would need another company buying or leasing the plane and offering specialized routes not serviceable in other ways either by land, sea or air at cheap rates and timeliness.
But then the small package delivery service does continue to evolve.
 
  • #8
sophiecentaur
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What do they say "Build it and they will come"!
But only sometimes. If the intention is to make deliveries to individuals then there will be many who just can't be served better than by A Man with a Van. Health and safety dictates a dedicated landing space or at least the ability to 'sky crane' a package down. All the options must have been discussed before the investment was made but I can see it as worsening the service for many customers. People in high density housing would need to walk further to get to a collecting point. (I live in the UK and my mail etc comes right to my door but I realise that US customers already accept walking to the edge of their property to get to that iconic Mail Box.)

So we must expect compromises and a number of different delivery arrangements, sometimes involving a drone. I would miss the social interaction with up to three of four delivery people per day. At present I can see the drone as a solution looking for more problems to solve - just as the Laser was, forty years ago.
 
  • #9
anorlunda
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That airplane in post #1 is not a drone. It is a manned aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing ability.

The developers mentioned getting permission to use hospital landing zones that are today restricted to helicopters. So perhaps medical package delivery is part of what they have in mind. Medivac might be another potential use, where the "package" is a patient. That's far different than delivery of packages to residential addresses.

Saying that there is a niche market for a product means the opposite of saying that it is useful for general application.

Definition of niche

a: a recess in a wall especially for a statue
b: something (such as a sheltered or private space) that resembles a recess in a wall
...
d: a specialized market
 
  • #10
Twigg
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I was wondering about medivac. Seems to me like they'd have the more immediate use case for a vertically landing/takeoff plane. I wonder about the cargo volume though, 200 ft^3 doesn't sound like a lot of room for EMTs to work in.
 
  • #11
sophiecentaur
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200 ft^3 doesn't sound like a lot of room for EMTs to work in.
Hardly more than a niche?????
 
  • #12
bob012345
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I was wondering about medivac. Seems to me like they'd have the more immediate use case for a vertically landing/takeoff plane. I wonder about the cargo volume though, 200 ft^3 doesn't sound like a lot of room for EMTs to work in.
They have helicopters which are better.
 
  • #13
sophiecentaur
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They have helicopters which are better.
Very expensive to run, though. We have very few available in UK.
 
  • #14
Twigg
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I was thinking about helicopters too. Somehow I thought the ALIA-250c was faster than a helicopter, but I just looked it up and stand corrected : the ALIA hits a top speed 145 kts, which to the best of my understanding is only marginally faster than your typical helicopter.

I do like the idea of having both types of medivac available. In different kinds of emergency situations, fuel and/or electricity can be scarce.

Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that the maintenance costs of the ALIA's are also jawdroppingly large.
 
  • #15
sophiecentaur
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Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that the maintenance costs of the ALIA's are also jawdroppingly large.
Would they not be significantly cheaper than using a helicopter?
 
  • #16
Twigg
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I honestly don't know. I feel like initially the maintenance costs will be astronomical just because of lack of supply for replacement parts and specialized labor. But after five years? Who knows

I certainly hope to see this company take off (pun intended :oldtongue:). What they've done is awesome. I think there's a lot of money behind battery R&D now, and as that tech gets better and better these electric aircraft will become increasingly feasible.
 
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  • #17
bob012345
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It seems to me if you can't use fossil fuels, use hydrogen combustion. It would have comparable power to fossil fuels.
 
  • #18
256bits
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vertical takeoff and landing ability.
Which a lot of small plane servicing routes do not have, so these guys have a plus on their side.
Cargo capacity is not that much different than what's used now for small plane runs.
50 minute ( charging ) turn around is typical also, although a bit on the high side, but maximizing the number of sorties per day isn't on the charter industry list of necessary economic features, unless this one gets to be used as an Air Taxi of some sort.

Range is a negative though - less than a hundred mile( pushing it ) radius from departure point. So short hop - Medivac, Air Taxi, remote community or mine site servicing, things like that I would consider.
So as I said - a niche market to capture in the future from small hydrocarbon airplanes.
 
  • #19
sophiecentaur
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maintenance costs will be astronomical
But what a great advertisement for the system!
 
  • #20
Twigg
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It finally dawned on me: organ transplant! That makes a lot more sense than medivac in my mind given the limited room to work in. Organ donors / surgical teams / organs have to moved quickly before they go bad. As @bob012345 points out, at present the ALIA (probably) doesn't offer a significant advantage over helicopters. Also the limited range is a serious concern, if the target organ donor / recipient is not in the immediate area. I'm curious to see where this ends up though. I'm rooting for 'em!

P.S. I was re-watching that video @anorlunda shared, and at one point they said the CEO was also the test pilot. Talk about good incentive to make sure the engineers get their paychecks on time. Better check that the brakes work :wink:
 
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