The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

As of mid-January 2019, when Beta Technologies first revealed the program to media, the Ava XC prototype had completed 176 test flights. At least another 50 more were completed that year before the company confirmed that the aircraft had only ever been intended as a technology demonstrator for the propulsion system it intended to deploy on a new eVTOL design. 

This plan went semi-public on November 22, 2019, Beta founder Kyle Clark released some details about a new eVTOL model called the Alia to an invitation-only event called TexasUP held at Ross Perot Jr.'s ranch in Westlake, Texas. The design architecture of Alia is very different from Ava XC, with four fixed rotors installed above the fuselage and a pusher propeller in place of the Ava XC's eight propellers. It has confirmed that the Alia prototype is being fitted with the new Foresight health and usage monitoring system developed specifically for eVTOL aircraft by Vermont-based GPMS.

In June 2020, when Beta unveiled the Alia prototype at its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, it became clear that the new model has become the focus of the company's ambitions in the eVTOL sector, and that the Ava XC was in fact used as a technology demonstrator for various aspects of the planned propulsion system. The Alia has been selected by the U.S. Air Force to participate in its Agility Prime technology demonstrator program. Beta claims to have airworthiness approval for the Alia, but it has not published any timeline for type certification and service entry. Majority shareholder United Therapeutics has already committed to using the Alia for delivering organs for transplant and passenger-carrying air taxi flights have been identified as a potential role for the distinctive design. The Alia will offer 200 cubic feet of cargo space and will have room for six passengers.

In March of 2021, Beta began the next phase of flight testing for the Alia prototype, with the U.S. Air Force granting the aircraft military airworthiness approval in May, clearing the way for manned flight trials under an Agility Prime contract.

As of late June, Vermont-based Beta’s plans to bring the Alia 250 eVTOL model to market in 2024 have been boosted by commitments from prospective customers Blade Urban Air Mobility and express delivery group UPS to buy up to 170 aircraft. The company is seeking type certification under the FAA’s Part 23 rules. Medical group United Therapeutics, which is also an investor in Beta, has previously committed to using the Alia for transporting human organs for transplants. Other financial backers for a recent $380 million Series A funding round include institutional investors led by Fidelity and Amazon’s Carbon Pledge Fund.

In July of 2021, the company completed a flight of 205 miles using only three of the Alia’s five battery packs, which are installed in the center of the fuselage for easy access. It is developing equipment to fully recharge the aircraft in around 50 minutes. It had also conducted flights between a pair of public airports, flying from Plattsburgh in upstate New York to Burlington International Airport in Vermont. On a full charge, the $4 million, all-electric Alia will be able to operate on routes of up to 288 miles, carrying six people (including a pilot) or three standard cargo pallets at speeds of up to 170 mph. The design features four fixed-pitch vertical lift propellers mounted on beams connected at the wing and a pusher propeller at the rear of the fuselage.

In July the Beta Technologies also announced that Will Roper, former U.S. Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition and one of the individuals behind the launch of Agility Prime, is joining its executive board. They also named Edward Eppler, former head of aerospace and defense investment banking with Goldman Sachs, as its chief financial officer. Roper's appointment suggests a possible future for the Alia eVTOL in military applications, in addition to its already planned medical and passenger uses.

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

Like many eVTOL start-ups, Beta Technologies has provided very little information on its plans. The company was almost completely undiscovered until January 2019 when it invited a handful of journalists to witness a test flight by the Ava XC. This resulted in somewhat conflicting and incomplete summaries of where the program stands, but did provide a tantalising glimpse of a design that appears to be based on solid engineering expertise. A key aspect of this ambiguity is whether the Ava XC is a prototype for the production aircraft itself or whether it is simply a technology demonstrator that will lead to a new design. In any case, Beta reportedly believes it can get an aircraft into production during 2024.

According to company founder Kyle Clark, U.S. biotechnology group United Therapeutics (founded by SiriusXM founder Martine Rothblatt) has provided an undisclosed amount of financial backing. United Therapeutics has reportedly committed to using the Alia for transporting organs for transplant.

The strategically leaked reveal of the Alia model in 2019 shed no more light on Beta's envisaged timelines for type certification and service entry. The fact that the Beta founder presented at the TexasUP event would suggest that he may be in the market for further funding since the gathering included a good number of deep-pocketed individuals. The company's selection by the U.S. Air Force's Agility Prime technology development could also provide a platform for fund-raising. However, the company's lack of transparency over key aspects of the program could prove to be an obstacle to winning further support.

Beta eVTOL Models

Alia Specifications

local vtol Lift + Cruise

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    6
  • Range
    250 mi
  • Cruise Speed
    n/a
  • Powerplant Type
    multi rotor
  • Power Source
    electric
  • Endurance
    n/a
  • Max Altitude
    n/a
  • Takeoff Distance
    n/a
  • Landing Distance
    n/a
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    6,000 lb
  • Payload Weight
    n/a

Dimensions

  • Length
    n/a
  • Width
    n/a
  • Height
    n/a
  • Wingspan
    50 ft

Beta Technologies acknowledged the existence of the Alia aircraft during the invitation-only TexasUP meeting held at Ross Perot Jr.'s Texas ranch on November 20 and 21, 2019. What isn't clear is whether it is intended to replace the existing Ava XC prototype or to become another member of a wider Beta eVTOL aircraft family. The secretive company revealed very few details about Alia, but what it did disclose made it clear that it is a fundamentally different design from the Ava XC. The all-electric aircraft has four fixed rotors installed on trusses that connect an angled fixed-wing to a twin tail assembly at the rear of the fuselage where this is also a single pusher propeller.

In June 2020, when Beta unveiled the Alia at its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, it became clear that the new model has become the focus of the company's ambitions in the eVTOL sector. It has been selected by the U.S. Air Force to participate in its Agility Prime technology demonstrator program. Beta claims to have airworthiness approval for the Alia, but it has not published any timeline for type certification and service entry. Majority shareholder United Therapeutics has already committed to using the Alia for delivering organs for transplant and passenger-carrying air taxi flights have been identified as a potential role for the distinctive design. The Alia will offer 200 cubic feet of cargo space and will have room for six passengers.

Investors

Total Amount Invested: $380m