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Vermont tech company strikes deal to sell electric aircraft to UPS

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 5:27 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont tech company has struck a deal to sell electric planes to one of America’s shipping giants.

South Burlington-based BETA Technologies has just confirmed a transaction with UPS. The company has committed to buying 10 planes and has an option to purchase another 150.

BETA’s electric aircraft is a cross between a helicopter and a plane. Leaders say landing in the commercial sector is helping the company really take off.

“It’s a huge deal for the entire industry because it’s a big step into sustainable aviation by a major player in the logistics world, but obviously a huge deal for BETA here in Burlington,” said Kyle Clark, the founder and CEO of BETA.

Clark says in the last few years, the company has made major progress evolving from a concept written on a drawing board to an electric aircraft flying in the air.

But this commitment from UPS brings the technology to new heights.

“With UPS having a real mission for the aircraft that they can use on a day to day basis, get the utilization rates high enough, so that the really, really important savings, financial savings due to the reduction of maintenance and the elimination of fuels in the aircraft closes that commercial gap,” Clark said.

In other words, the more companies like UPS invest in electric aircraft, the cheaper it will be.

And once BETA establishes financial viability, it can leverage the technology’s sustainability.

“People really can’t consider green technologies if they’re always burdened with a financial detriment,” Clark said.

So far, Vermont-based United Therapeutics has contracted with the company to use the electric aircraft for transporting organs and tissues. The United States Air Force has also made a commitment. Each plan to purchase hundreds of aircraft over the next few years.

UPS said in a statement it’s onboard because, “This is about innovation with a focus on returns for our business, our customers, and the environment. Imagine landing directly on UPS properties. Imagine landing on the roof of a hospital. That will be the reality we will bring to life.”

A UPS spokesperson tells WCAX the company will use the aircraft for its express services. Right now, UPS uses a small fleet of fixed-wing aircraft to transport time-sensitive packages, but they can only land and take off at airports. Instead, BETA’s helicopter-like “vertical” landing and takeoff technology allows the planes to travel straight from facility to facility. That also eliminates up to an hour in ground transit.

Neither party would disclose how much the agreement costs.

Pending FAA certification, Clark says all the aircraft will be in the sky by 2024.

“It’ll all add up to hundreds of hundreds of aircraft per year taking carbon-emitting, fuel-burning aircraft out of the skies. And by 2030, I think we’ll be at a rate of thousands of aircraft a year,” he said.

BETA’s electric aircraft is called ALIA. It often test flies the Plattsburgh and Burlington skies multiple times a week. There are only two built right now, manned by one pilot. The cargo hold can contain up to 1,400 pounds of packages.

“I would say that we’ve crossed some really important milestones to prove to UPS and United Therapeutics that the technology fundamentally works, and now it’s an execution challenge, a regulatory challenge, and a manufacturing challenge,” Clark said.

Clark says the deal also proves to future investors BETA is a company worth watching.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: Where will manufacturing take place?

Kyle Clark: Presently, we’re building the prototypes and the conforming aircraft here in Vermont. We hope to build the future aircraft here in Vermont.

BETA is hiring to make that happen. Clark says the 200-person company will be looking for about an additional 300 employees over the next few years to ramp up production.

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