Beta To Certify eCTOL Ahead Of Its Alia eVTOL
Citing customer demand, U.S. startup Beta Technologies plans to certify a conventional-takeoff-and-landing version of its Alia-250 electric aircraft before it certifies the original vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft.
A clearer path to certification and operation of a fixed-wing electric aircraft is another reason given for the move.
The fixed-wing CX300 is being launched with orders from Air New Zealand, Bristow Group and United Therapeutics. FAA Part 23 certification and first deliveries of the aircraft are targeted for 2025. The aircraft will be developed in parallel with the electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) Alia-250, which is expected to be certified 12-18 months later rather than in 2025 as originally planned.
The decision is not a surprise, as Beta has been flying its first Alia engineering prototype SN1 in fixed-wing electric conventional-takeoff-and-landing (eCTOL) configuration since mid-2020, amassing more than 22,000 flight miles. The aircraft has demonstrated a range of 386 mi. on a single charge and flown more than 3,500 mi. cross-country on a multi-stop flight supported by Beta’s own charging network. These airport-to-airport test flights spurred customer interest in an eCTOL aircraft.
“Global operators are looking for practical solutions to help meet their sustainability requirements and, after seeing the cost and performance of this prototype, our customers are eager to integrate it into their fleet,” Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clark says in a statement.
While the design range of CX300 has yet to be announced, Beta’s SN1 prototype has achieved significantly greater range than any other all-electric aircraft so far flown—ranges of less than 150 mi. are more typical. This is a result of an aerodynamic design driven by the requirement for the Alia-250 to achieve a range of 250 nm (290 mi.) including vertical takeoff and landing.
“With its known certification and operational path, this aircraft represents an opportunity to get electric aviation into the market, and into the hands of our customers, as quickly as possible,” Clark says. The FAA in 2022 changed direction on eVTOL certification from Part 23 to Part 21.17(b), treating them as a special class of powered-lift aircraft. This requires new rulemaking for operating regulations and pilot licensing.
Beta applied for FAA certification of the CX300 in 2022 and is finalizing the G-1 certification basis under Part 23. The startup is also continuing flight testing of the eVTOL-configured second engineering prototype, SN2, at its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont. Certification of the lift-plus-cruise Alia-250 under Part 21.17(b) will be pursued in parallel with the eCTOL, but will now allow more time for the FAA to finalize its Special Federal Aviation Rule for eVTOL operations.
The CX300 retains the Alia-250’s pusher propulsion, but the lift rotors and motors are eliminated. Booms projecting forward of the wing and carrying the front pair of rotors are removed, but the rear booms joining the wing and V-tail are retained. This reduces maximum takeoff weight to 6,450 lb. from just less than 7,000 lb. for the Alia-250. Otherwise, the airframes and systems are essentially the same.
Beta is targeting short-haul and regional cargo, medical, defense and passenger applications for the piloted, five-passenger CX300. Air New Zealand has declared an intent to order three aircraft, with an option for 20 more. Bristow has placed a deposit-backed order for up to 50 eCTOL aircraft in addition to its existing order for five eVTOL aircraft with an option for up to 55 more.
United Therapeutics, an early investor in Beta’s development of the eVTOL Alia-250, has added an order for eCTOL versions to its existing plans to use the startup’s aircraft to transport manufactured organs and medical equipment for transplants.
While some eVTOL developers have built the ability to take off and land conventionally into their designs—for safety or to allow use of a runway at one or the other end of a flight to save energy—Beta is the first to offer both eCTOL and eVTOL versions of essentially the same aircraft. ”We continue to progress our Alia eVTOL design through certification, in harmony with the eCTOL program,” Clark says.
“With the eCTOL aircraft launch we have further de-risked our path to commercialization and concurrently provided lower cost, more utility and optionality to operators,” he says. Clark indicates the decision to pursue the eCTOL was behind Beta’s decision in 2022 to invest in a production facility in Burlington and more recently to open an engineering center in Montreal focused of certifying the airframe.
Beta has raised more than $796 million in private investment to date and considers this sufficient to get through certification and into production of the eCTOL aircraft. Revenues from its firm orders for the CX300 will then help fund completion of certification and launch of production for the eVTOL aircraft, for which it holds 130 firm orders and 280 options from Bristow, Blade Air Mobility, lessor LCI and UPS as well as United Therapeutics.