Retail giant Amazon this week made a second investment of an undisclosed amount in eVTOL aircraft developer Beta Technologies. In May 2021, the company’s $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund contributed to a private funding round led by Fidelity Management & Research Company.
On June 23, Beta’s Alia 250 prototype aircraft conducted a test flight between two of Amazon’s Air Hub facilities, making the 55-mile journey from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Wilmington Air Park in Ohio. The flight was part of an ongoing series of sorties involving the Alia, which is intended for both passenger and cargo services. Over the past two weeks, it has made stops in cities including Springfield and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, as well as the Louisville, Kentucky hub of express delivery group UPS.
Amazon has not committed to adding the eVTOL aircraft to its fleet but appears interested in the potential of a vehicle that could carry three cargo pallets in a cabin that could otherwise accommodate six people, including a pilot. The company says it is backing Beta with funding because it wants to help advance zero-emissions flights.
Amazon established its Climate Pledge Fund in 2019 to support the development of sustainable and decarbonizing technologies and services. The group has also invested in hydrogen propulsion pioneer ZeroAvia.
Amazon has faced strong criticism from environmental groups for its rising carbon footprint from the burgeoning home-delivery sector. The company is committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and wants to power all its operations with renewable fuel by 2025. Beta aims to have the all-electric Alia certified and ready to start commercial operations in 2025.
In late May, Beta completed a multistage trip with the Alia from Plattsburgh Airport in upstate New York to Bentonville, Arkansas. The aircraft (tail number N250UT) logged 1,403 miles in 11 hours and 44 minutes of flight time, making stops en route in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Test pilots Lochie Ferrier and Camron Guthrie recharged the Alia’s batteries four times during the week-long trip, using Beta’s own multimodal charging stations in four of the locations visited.
Beta has signed agreements covering provisional sales with express delivery company UPS, leasing group LCI, and private charter provider Blade Urban Air Mobility. The start-up says it has now raised $796 million, entirely from private backers.