HI Uplift: Believe in BETA
Remember when the iPhone came out? Steve Jobs unveiled it as an iPod, phone and internet communicator. Fast-forward 15 years and the uses are virtually limitless. The advanced air mobility (AAM) sector is the same, says David Stepanek, executive vice president, sales and chief transformation officer, Bristow and that’s why the company is positioning itself as an early adopter.
“Each of these OEMs is developing a revolutionary technology. When we take possession of that technology it’s a tool,” Stepanek tells Helicopter Investor and Revolution.Aero. “It’s a tool that we write applications for to utilise it. So, our technology is not the aircraft it’s the applications that we write. The use cases that we are coming with today are just the beginning. Look at how the iPhone has evolved, I don’t really think anybody can specify what all the applications will be as we move through the AAM space.”
The US-based operator just signed off on its seventh purchase agreement with an eVTOL developer covering everything from unmanned cargo delivery to last-mile air taxi. Having previously agreed deals with Lilium, Overair, Eve, Electra.Aero, Elroy and Vertical, Bristow has just placed a firm order with BETA Technologies for five ALIA-250s (including an option for 50 more).
Why BETA? Well, aside from the ALIA’s (pictured) simple design, the team is everything, says Stepanek. Do they have the correct approach to the aircraft, are they building for the right reasons, do they have the capabilities to design for commercial applications, can they scale to production? These are the questions Bristow needs answers to before placing orders for new aircraft.
Although limited, money has changed hands as part of the agreement, confirms Stepanek. “We believe where BETA is in their stage of development that it was time to make sure we could sure up our commitment to each other. That is not just about the investment, but also the intellectual property assistance we can provide to ensure the aircraft is designed and certified for commercial applications,” he says. The deal also gives Bristow access to early delivery positions.
The use of intellectual property as currency is key to how Bristow operates in this space, according to Stepanek. As a global firm with 70 years of vertical lift experience, the group operates in 15 countries with a variety of different AOCs – including the US, Europe and Brazil – making Bristow a regional carrier everywhere it flies. “This presents some pretty unique opportunities for these AAM companies that are building aircraft to be operated on a global scale.”
Bristow plans to use the ALIA-250 to move passengers and time-sensitive cargo across soon-to-be developed regional mobility networks in the US and elsewhere. Bristow has been the launch customer for aircraft before and will be using that experience when deciding on network location.
“We learnt you must choose a temperate environment without many hazards. You must also be near a short supply chain so you can source the materials you need to support that aircraft. So, you choose a place where you have embedded infrastructure and the right people on hand to manage the aircraft. Whether that’s the Gulf of Mexico, elsewhere in the US, or in the UK [time will tell],” says Stepanek.
The first ALIA-250 deliveries are due to commence in 2024.