Apr 20, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Electric aviation startup Beta Technologies raises $375 million

A Beta Technologies' ALIA aircraft

An ALIA aircraft from Vermont-based Beta Technologies. Photo courtesy of Brian Jenkins/BETA Technologies

Beta Technologies, a Burlington, Vermont-based electric aviation company, announced the close of a $375 million Series B funding round on Wednesday, bringing total venture funding for the maker of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) to nearly $800 million.

Why it matters: Beta aims to achieve FAA certification by 2024 and transform the short-range cargo delivery market, from transporting organs to patients to making last-mile and regional cargo deliveries.

The big picture: The funding, led by TPG Rise Climate and Fidelity Management & Research Company, will allow Beta to continue to hone its technology.

  • The company's aircraft prototype, currently in flight testing, is the dragonfly-like ALIA-250. It can carry up to 1,400 pounds of cargo, or five people plus a pilot.
  • The plane needs less than an hour to charge after a full mission, the company said in a statement, and on three battery packs (it can hold up to five), the max flight duration is about two hours.
  • The company is also making a charging network that works for its planes and for electric vehicles.
  • United Therapeutics, a biotech company founded by Beta director Martine Rothblatt, plans to use the aircraft and chargers for moving manufactured and repaired organs for human transplantation.
  • The initial charging network includes Bentonville, Arkansas, home to Wal Mart's headquarters. Because the planes take off and land vertically, the stations are not limited to traditional airports.

By the numbers: UPS has ordered 10 aircraft with an option for 140 more. It has also reserved the right to buy Beta's charging stations and sees eVTOL as a way to improve service to smaller markets while reducing its emissions.

  • Beta's eVTOLs can fly up to 250 miles at 170 mph on a single charge, or about 50 miles further than the distance between Washington, D.C., and New York City.
  • Blade, a helicopter charter service, ordered five of the ALIA aircraft, with an option for up to 20, for use in transferring passengers between airports or along commuter routes.
  • The U.S. Air Force is also evaluating Beta's aircraft for its use.

Yes, but: The company has competition in the eVTOL space, several of which went public for financing. These include Lilium Air Mobility, Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation.

  • Beta stands out for relying on VC funding and institutional investors and focusing on the cargo segment.
  • Elroy Air, which has raised $50 million, is a competitor in the cargo sector.

Our thought bubble, from Axios transportation correspondent Joann Muller: It's easy to see how electric cargo planes with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities could help companies like FedEx, Amazon and Walmart shuttle goods among warehouses more safely and efficiently.

  • The trick is balancing the tradeoffs between payload and power. Batteries are bulky and heavy, and they suck a lot of energy just taking off and landing. That cuts down on their flying range and the amount of cargo they can carry.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that Beta Technologies stands out for relying on institutional investors and VC funding.

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