Beta is among the companies working to develop small electric planes that can carry large amounts of passengers or small payloads for short distances. Many of these aircraft are a class of vehicles called EVITOL (electric take-off and landing), designed to take off and land off a standard runway.
“We’re trying to create a sustainable future for aviation, and that’s a big, lofty goal,” said Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clark. The company, which focuses mostly on cargo delivery, has raised more than $800 million in funding and won orders for its eVTOL aircraft from companies such as UPS, Blade and Air New Zealand.
Aviation currently accounts for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the industry’s growing contribution to climate change. Electric airplanes can help reduce emissions, but technical and regulatory hurdles still loom over the industry, partly because of betas in smaller-scale aircraft such as air taxis.
Beta isn’t canceling its plans for eVTOL, but it plans to first certify a conventional aircraft called the CX300, which must take off and land on a runway. The company has flown this type of aircraft on test flights covering more than 22,000 miles, both near its base in Vermont and across the country: trips to Arkansas (about 1,400 miles, or 2,200 kilometers) and Kentucky (800 miles, or 1,200 kilometers) on various routes. Occasions. Those long trips require stops along the way to recharge the battery, but the Beta Plane flew up to 386 miles on a single charge.
Beta’s approach to electric flight is to “go in a way that’s practical and doesn’t require three or four miracles at once,” Clark said, referring to the technical challenges facing next-generation electric planes. and regulatory hurdles ahead for the industry.
Several large Evitol startups have announced plans to enter commercial service by 2025. Those plans hinge on getting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the civil aviation regulatory body in the US. “Safety will dictate the timing of certification, but we could see these aircraft in the skies in 2024 or 2025,” the FAA said in an emailed statement.
New eVTOL aircraft will be subject to a different FAA certification framework than conventional aircraft. Because of that particular process, some in the industry doubt that the agency or the companies will be able to meet the announced deadline.
Beta plans to put the EVitol aircraft into service in 2026. Others say it could take up to a decade for the agency to issue a permit. “It’s going to take longer in terms of validation, probably 2027 or 2028,” said Matthew Clark, a flight and astronaut postdoctoral fellow at MIT. “These conventional electric planes will start first.”