One week out from the shareholder vote that will determine whether Archer Aviation is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, the California-based eVTOL developer claims to have reached a key milestone on the path to certification of its electric air taxi — but it’s not clear how significant that milestone actually is.
In a press release issued Sept. 7, Archer announced that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has “approved and signed” the G-1 issue paper that establishes a certification basis for its eVTOL aircraft. Only a handful of other eVTOL developers, notably Joby and Lilium, have announced receipt of a G-1 issue paper or its European equivalent, a Certification Review Item (CRI)-A01.
However, the G-1 process has four stages, and Archer repeatedly declined to tell eVTOL.com whether its press release refers to the fourth and final stage of the process, or an earlier one. An FAA spokesperson likewise declined to comment on what stage of the G-1 process Archer had reached, stating only that the FAA’s office of safety and office of communications “did NOT approve the press release” (emphasis original). That ambiguity means that Archer could either be rapidly catching up to its rival air taxi developers, or still at least one to two years behind in the race to certification.
In its press release, Archer said it engaged with the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts & Innovation and the Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office to develop the airworthiness and environmental requirements described in the G-1 issue paper, which are based on the FAA’s Part 23 standards for small airplanes. In a promotional video touting the G-1 milestone, Archer co-founder and co-CEO Adam Goldstein described the achievement as “the culmination of 18 months of work with the FAA that now clears a pathway to certify our electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.”
The company said it can now focus on finalizing its G-2 issue paper with the FAA, which will set forth the means of compliance to meet the requirements spelled out in the G-1.
When Archer revealed the design of its electric air taxi earlier this year, it emphasized that the aircraft was “designed with certification in mind from the beginning.” According to Archer’s head of certification, Eric Wright, who joined the company from Piper Aircraft, the company is deliberately taking “a very simplified approach” to design and development of its aircraft to fast-track certification.
“We are using standardized aerospace practices, processes, procedures, materials, equipment wherever possible, to really simplify the amount of work that we have to do with the FAA,” Wright told eVTOL.com during an interview in May.
For example, he said, Archer expects to use commonly accepted practices and materials for building its composite airframes, versus more exotic approaches that carry more certification risk. Likewise, he said that Archer is taking “a very practical approach to avionics,” and will leverage already certified avionics equipment to reduce its certification burden.
“If you focus on areas that are only those areas necessary for regulator involvement, then you can be very efficient with your certification resources, and also keep the FAA involved only where they need to be highly involved,” Wright explained. “That lends itself well to certification, at least in an expeditious manner.”
Expeditious certification will be key to Archer meeting its ambitious goal of launching commercial air taxi services in 2024 — the same timeline as Joby and Lilium, which have both been around much longer than Archer. Whereas Joby, for example, has already logged more than 1,000 test flights with its eVTOL prototypes, Archer doesn’t expect to fly its full-scale demonstrator aircraft, Maker, until later this year.
Archer’s flight test campaign may get a boost from the U.S. Air Force. The company announced last week that it is partnering with the Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime office to explore the technical readiness and suitability of its aircraft for Air Force missions. Under the agreement, Archer will share data from certain of its upcoming flight tests for the purposes of furthering the Air Force’s understanding of Maker’s capabilities, systems, and development progression. The Air Force already has similar agreements with several other eVTOL developers, including Joby, Beta Technologies, LIFT Aircraft, and Kitty Hawk.
“Through our partnership with the [Air Force], we hope to accelerate our flight testing timeline and demonstrate the technical readiness level and suitability of our aircraft for the United States Air Force’s desired applications,” Archer co-founder and co-CEO Brett Adcock stated in a press release.
“We’re looking forward to beginning flight tests of Maker in the months ahead as part of this agreement, which will showcase the advancements we’ve made in bringing our eVTOL aircraft to market.”
This story has been updated from its original version to reflect that Archer declined to specify which stage of the G-1 process it has reached.
On Sept. 10, this story was further updated to add comment from the FAA.