Electric air taxi manufacturer receives major FAA approval

Midnight, an all-electric aircraft from Archer Aviation, is seen at the Salinas Municipal Airport in Salinas, California, on August 2, 2023.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration has given permission Sagittarius Aviation a key certification that brings the electric air taxi maker closer to ultimately flying travelers, the company said Wednesday.

Archer makes electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs, and received orders and support from United Airlinesstating that the new technology could reduce CO2 emissions.

Carriers have invested in or ordered eVTOL planes, which take off and land vertically like helicopters and which developers say can reduce emissions in crowded areas. For example, United says it can take passengers to and from the airport in major cities, such as between Manhattan and United's hub in Newark, New Jersey.

“Today we received Part 135 certification, which effectively allows us to become an airline so we can carry passengers,” Archer CEO Adam Goldstein told CNBC.

The process took Archer about two years, producing more than 2,000 pages of documents and 14 manuals detailing operating procedures, training and maintenance.

Now Archer must get its four-passenger plane, called “Midnight,” certified by the FAA, which the company is currently working on, Goldstein said. That could put the air taxis into service as early as next year, the company estimates. Goldstein said he could not give an exact time frame, but when asked about delays in the certification of variants of older aircraft, he noted that Archer's planes are much simpler with far fewer components than commercial aircraft.

Archer's demonstration aircraft, Maker, can fly up to 60 miles at top speeds of 150 mph. The company's Midnight aircraft has a range of 100 miles, although Archer plans to use it for shorter distances.

United is working with Archer on what it would look like to put the electric aircraft into service.

“This is not something that can be done at the push of a button,” said Andrew Chang, director of United Airlines' venture arm. “It matches how fast [Archer] can move the operational side forward and how we can fit that within our airport hubs.”

Archer collaborates with car manufacturer Stellantis to produce hundreds of electric air taxis.

Archer's rivals have also made progress. Joby Aviation received its Part 135 certification two years ago, has a partnership with the US Air Force and has received orders and support from Delta Airlines. On Tuesday, Joby said he plans to do so acquire the autonomy division of the autonomous aviation company Xwing.

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Clarification: Archer's demonstration plane, Maker, can fly up to 60 miles at top speeds of 150 miles per hour. The company's Midnight aircraft has a range of 100 miles, although Archer plans to use it for shorter distances.

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