BURLINGTON, VERMONT — On March 14, Burlington, Vermont-based aerospace manufacturer Beta Technologies delayed the launch of its innovative electric aircraft capable of helicopter-like takeoffs and landings. Instead, the company aims to certify a more traditional version of its electric plane by 2025.

Beta is among the increasing number of firms developing small electric aircraft for short-distance transportation of passengers or cargo. Many of these aircraft belong to the eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) category, designed to operate without standard runways.

Beta's founder and CEO, Kyle Clark, emphasizes the company's commitment to fostering a sustainable aviation future. With a focus on cargo delivery, Beta has raised over $800 million in funding and received eVTOL aircraft orders from companies like UPS, Blade, and Air New Zealand.

Despite accounting for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the aviation industry's environmental impact continues to grow. Electric aircraft could help reduce emissions, but technical and regulatory challenges remain. This is why Beta is initially developing aircraft that function more like traditional planes rather than air taxis.

The company is not abandoning its eVTOL ambitions but will first certify the CX300, a more conventional plane requiring a runway for takeoff and landing. Beta has conducted test flights for this aircraft type, covering over 22,000 miles in total.

Beta's strategy focuses on an electric flight in a highly practical manner, addressing both technical and regulatory challenges. Several major eVTOL startups aim to commence commercial service in 2025, contingent upon Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval. The FAA anticipates these aircraft could be in the skies between 2024 and 2025.

However, eVTOL aircraft will undergo a different FAA certification process than conventional aircraft, leading some industry insiders to question the feasibility of meeting the announced timelines.

Beta intends to certify its eVTOL aircraft for service in 2026, while some believe the FAA might take until later in the decade for approvals. Matthew Clarke, an MIT postdoctoral fellow in aeronautics and astronautics, suggests that conventional electric aircraft will be the first to take off.

Battery-powered transportation is essential for building eco-friendly transit, but aviation faces challenges due to battery weight. Most efforts in electric aviation focus on smaller aircraft for this reason. Beta's conventional electric planes will also be small, concentrating on short-haul passenger travel and cargo delivery.

Although smaller planes currently represent a minor portion of traffic, eVTOLs offer potential climate benefits and operational flexibility, attracting significant funding for startups like Joby, Archer, and Lilium.

Numerous questions remain regarding eVTOLs, from landing locations and noise levels to comparisons with ground-based transportation in terms of environmental impact. Conventional electric aircraft might serve as an interim solution while the industry addresses these concerns. Regardless of the specific technology, fossil fuel-free aviation will be a crucial part of addressing climate change.