Chris Caputo stood on the tarmac at Burlington International Airportin Vermont in early October and looked at the clouds in the distance. He had piloted military and commercial aircraft over a long career, racking up thousands of flight hours, but the trip he was about to take would be very different. That’s because the airplane Caputo would fly runs on batteries.Over the next 16 days, he and his colleagues flew the plane, a CX300 built by their employer,Beta Technologies, down the East Coast. They would make nearly two dozen stops to rest and recharge, flying through congested airspace in Boston, New York, Washington, and other cities. When the journey came to an end in Florida, Beta handed the plane over to the Air Force, which will experiment with it over the next few months.
The trip offered a vision of what aviation could look like years from now – one in which the skies are filled with aircraft that do not emit the greenhouse gases that are dangerously warming up the Earth. “We’re doing some really meaningful work for our state, our country and the planet,” Caputo said. “It’s hard not to want to be a part of it.” For most of aviation history, electric aircraft have been little more than a fantasy. But technological advancements, particularly in batteries, and billions of dollars of investment have helped make short-distance electric air travel feasible – and, its backers hope, commercially viable.
Beta, which is privately held, has raised more than $800 million from investors such as Fidelity, Amazon‘s Climate Pledge Fund and private equity firm TPG Capital. The company employs about 600 people, mostly in Vermont, and recently finished building a factory in Burlington where it plans to mass produce its aircraft, which have yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. The first will be the CX300, a sleek, futuristic plane with a 50-foot wingspan, large curved windows and a rear propeller. That plane is designed to carry about 1,250 pounds of cargo and will be followed soon after by the A250, which shares about 80% of the CX300’s design and is outfitted with lift rotors to take off and land like a helicopter. Both aircraft, which Beta markets as the Alia, will eventually carry passengers, the company says.
Beta is one of many companies working on electric aviation. In California, Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation are developing battery-powered aircraft capable of vertical flight that, they say, will ferry a handful of passengers short distances. Those companies have backers such as Toyota, Stellantis, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and large investment firms. Established manufacturers like Airbus, Boeing and Embraer are also working on electric aircraft.
The US government has mobilized behind the industry, too. The FAA aims to support operations of aircraft that use new means of propulsion at scale in one or more places by 2028. And the Air Force is awarding contracts and testing vehicles, including Beta’s CX300 and an aircraft that Joby delivered to Edwards Air Force Base in California in September.
Beta’s airplane has flown as far as 386 miles on a single charge, but the company said it expects its customers to generally use it to carry out trips of 100 to 150 miles. The plane’s journey to Florida was allowed under limited authority granted by the FAA. In addition to producing no emissions, electric aircraft are designed to be simpler to operate and maintain than conventional helicopters and planes. But they are not expected to take to the skies in large numbers for years.
Initially, their trips are likely to be short. Modern batteries can support limited range and weight. As a result, the aircraft that they power can generally carry only a handful of passengers, or the equivalent load in cargo. Early on, electric aircraft are expected to compete mainly with helicopters and cars and trucks. In cities, widespread flights won’t be possible without expanded infrastructure like vertical landing and takeoff sitest. The cost of producing such aircraft will also be high to start, limiting their use to the well-heeled and to critical services such as medical evacuations, experts said.

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