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Beta Technologies Christens Electric Aircraft Production Plant

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Published October 2, 2023 at 4:27 p.m.


COURTESY OF BETA TECHNOLOGIES
  • Courtesy of Beta Technologies
Beta Technologies celebrated the opening of its South Burlington manufacturing center on Monday, marking the milestone with praise from politicians and a stylish flyby outside the hangar doors.

The state's top elected leaders joined company founder and CEO Kyle Clark, its major investors, and many of its nearly 600 employees inside the sparkling 188,500-square-foot facility at the Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport.

"What you guys are in," Clark told the crowd, his voice echoing across the capacious hangar, "is the first [large-] scale production facility for electric aircraft."
The South Burlington company is at the forefront of a global push to develop commercially viable electric planes that can take off and land vertically — like helicopters — and fly like jets. Though the much-hyped market for such planes remains uncertain, analysts consider Beta one of the nascent industry's most promising startups. Since its founding in 2017, Beta has raised more than $700 million from investors, received valuations exceeding $1 billion and flown more than 26,000 miles on its prototype, dubbed Alia.

The company would use the craft to transport people and cargo. One of its more significant customers is UPS.
Beta board members Martine Rothblatt, center, and Chuck Davis, left - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • Beta board members Martine Rothblatt, center, and Chuck Davis, left
Beta says the production plant will be able to build as many as 300 aircraft per year once Alia is certified for commercial flight, a process the company hopes to complete by 2027. In the meantime, the company will use the plant to produce test aircraft needed to clear the substantial regulatory hurdles ahead.

Construction of the 40-acre manufacturing campus began in summer 2022. Last month, as buildout of the production center was nearly complete, a worker with the lead contractor, PC Construction, died in a worksite accident involving a forklift. Clark began Monday's event by acknowledging the man's death, calling 57-year-old Rory Gibbs "a veteran, a father and a husband," who died "while working towards our collective mission." The incident remains under investigation.
The plant features eco-friendly materials and designs, including geothermal and solar energy systems. A skylight runs the length of the hangar, and a far wall includes interior lights that adjust in intensity according to the time of day. A Pride flag hangs next to the American flag and Vermont state flag, while exterior signage informs visitors that they are not welcome if they show signs of flu-like illness or bigotry.



"We're going to make manufacturing sexy again," Clark said. 
Inside the facility - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • Inside the facility
Beta's decision to locate its production facility adjacent to its airport headquarters represented a major corporate investment in Vermont, where the startup has quickly become a corporate darling. In a series of speeches, local, state and federal leaders voiced effusive support for the company, which they described as a beacon of green innovation and job creation.

Gov. Phil Scott predicted that Beta will soon be as important to the state as IBM was when it located a microchip plant in Essex Junction in the 1950s, bringing thousands of well-paying tech jobs.

"Mark my words," Scott said.
Alia in flight - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • Alia in flight
U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) characterized Beta's work as part of the effort to combat climate change. Former senator Patrick Leahy, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and South Burlington City Council chair Helen Riehle also spoke.

Following the remarks, the crowd walked to the far end of the plant, where enormous, aircraft-size doors had opened. An Alia protoype glided by, its test pilot turning inward to show off the sleek design and delight onlookers, whose cheers drowned out the gentle buzz of the plane's electric motor.

"It's not as quiet as the F-35," Sanders quipped, referring to the fighter jets also based at the airport. "But it's close."

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a photo caption that incorrectly described Martine Rothblatt's role at Beta Technologies.

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