When many people contemplate the benefits of a given job, a few common questions come to mind. Will the company in question provide medical insurance? What about 401(k) retirement plan matching? Oh, and what’s the vacation policy like?
While all of those things are clearly important, Burlington, Vermont-based eVTOL developer Beta Technologies has long attached another piece to its benefits package: free flight training. Now, as the company ramps up its testing program and inches closer to its goal of commercializing the all-electric Alia 250 aircraft, that’s something the company — and its employees — believe will give them an upper hand in the increasingly competitive eVTOL space.
Beta’s flight training program allows for employees, regardless of their position, to get various certificates and ratings completely on the company’s dime. The eVTOL developer owns and maintains several training aircraft, has 17 dedicated certified flight instructors (CFIs) to work with employees, and leverages an extensive in-house maintenance staff to keep the entire operation running. According to a company spokesperson, Beta’s CFIs — many of whom have previous military or airline experience — average 4,000 hours of flight experience, while its maintenance personnel average 20 years on the job.
For that reason, while Beta is still an eVTOL developer at heart, the company’s flying operation more closely resembles a flight school or small charter operation. In addition to flight training, Beta also uses its fleet of more than a dozen conventional aircraft for logistics and transportation.
For intern Bella Riely, flight training allowed her to have a more intimate understanding of aviation concepts and language, which was otherwise absent for someone with little industry experience. “When I came to Beta, it was a full immersion experience: I started working on the scale model and people were talking about ailerons and elevators and I was like, ‘I have no idea what’s happening,’” she said. “So, to be able to get my hands on a yoke and be in the cockpit manipulating flight controls, it helped me connect with the people as well as the aircraft and the job.”
While someone in Riely’s role — who works on 3D modeling and prototyping — may not directly be flying for her job, the knowledge she gains through flight training helps her at her desk. Meanwhile, for Lochie Ferrier, a flight test engineer and pilot for Beta, integrating flying right into his day-to-day activities is vital to program safety, he said. Specifically, Ferrier said that it’s not uncommon for flight test programs to have pilots with multiple month-long gaps in their currency because, in many cases, the actual test aircraft don’t fly that much. For Beta, having dedicated aircraft in house keeps people safe and current during those gaps.
Keeping pilots current this way and expanding the number of people in the company who can fly also creates what Ferrier calls “Swiss army knife” employees, or people who can do lots of tasks and do them well. According to Ferrier, Lan Vu, another pilot who spoke to eVTOL.com, is one of these people. “Lan can watch telemetry, build batteries, fly planes to go build batteries, complete safety reviews, and so on. The whole pilot piece has made Lan to be way more useful to the team I work on for sure,” he said.
Vu said that she, like others at the company, had no direct experience with aviation before coming to work at Beta. “I really had no thought I would even fly a plane before working here,” she said.
Vu’s story isn’t unique, and the company’s flight training initiative seems to be producing more and more people like her — coming with no aviation experience, and emerging as a pilot as well as a seasoned Beta employee.
“At Beta, our mission is to build the best electric aerospace company. Our flight program is borne of the belief that there’s no better way to understand flight, and what pilots really need in the aircraft, than to fly yourself,” a Beta spokesperson said. Company CEO Kyle Clark also sees this as a key part of Beta’s overall mission: “Beta’s employee pilot training program gives every Beta employee a direct connection to the company mission,” he emphasized.
And while all that’s great, the elephant in the room couldn’t be more obvious: covering flight training costs for a company with hundreds of employees can’t be cheap. While Beta has serious incoming cashflow from investors such as Fidelity Management and Amazon’s Climate Change Fund, and orders on the docket from Blade and UPS, aircraft certification is a fraught and expensive process that is likely to require all of the capital that Beta can throw at it.
However, Ferrier sees the flight training program as an interconnected piece of the work the company does, and thus the cost as justifiable. He said that, just as other companies invest in professional development opportunities for employees and other educational perks, Beta’s flight training program operates in a similar manner by providing employees with relevant, useful skills for the job.
“Imagine if everyone who is designing cars at Ford had never driven a car before,” he said. “That car would be really, really bad.”