Californian electric air taxi developer Archer Aviation has secured airworthiness certification from the FAA to start the homologation testing for its Midnight eVTOL air taxi. It got another $210 million fresh capital boost from big fellows like United Airlines, Boeing, and carmaker Stellantis, with the latter actually helping to build it, in a brand-new factory in Georgia.
The Midnight eVTOL is a fully battery-electric airplane, seating four passengers and a pilot, that can take off and land vertically due to 12 electric rotors, six for lifting at the back of the wings and six that can tilt forward to fly up to 240 km/h. It has a range of 160 km but is intended for 20 to 30 km short hops between the city and the airport, with as little as 10 minutes of charging in-between flights.
Designed to hold 450+ kg of payload, the aircraft can handle four passengers with their luggage, plus a pilot. As a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft, it takes very little space to get airborn, called a ‘vertiport’. The wingspan of the plane is only 14,6 meters.
At launch, Archer anticipates most vertiports will be integrated into existing aviation infrastructure – helipads or the vast network of existing public airports – and non-aviation infrastructure, such as the top of parking structures.
The ambition is to have Midnight’s direct operating cost enable it to operate at competitive pricing with ground-based ride share. You’ll be able to book your trip directly from your smartphone and board an eVTOL aircraft at the nearest Archer Vertiport.
Much quieter than a helicopter
Archer touts Midnight as an alternative to fossil-fuel-powered helicopters, hovering ‘silently’ over the city at 45 dB lower than a helicopter. A classic helicopter on cruise with its typical ‘wop-wop’ sound averages 75- 85 dB. A vacuum cleaner or petrol lawnmower at home produces 75 dB or more, to compare. The electric eVTOL should be quiet enough to blend into the background noise of the street below, Archer claims.
The company has already received $10 million from United Airlines as a pre-delivery deposit on 100 aircraft. United announced that the first route for the Midnight to fly will be between Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Downtown Manhattan Heliport in New York in 2025.
Stellantis as contract manufacturer
Archer’s first demonstrator aircraft, called ‘Maker’, was unveiled on June 10, 2021, featuring an 80% scale two-seater model of the now ready-for-testing Midnight, aimed at four passengers and a pilot. The company finished the preliminary design of its Midnight eVTOL in 2022, unveiling it in December.
Archer intends to manufacture the Midnight at its facility in Covington, Georgia, with the French-Italian-American carmaker group Stellantis bringing in its manufacturing know-how. Stellantis will act as its exclusive contract manufacturer. The partnership goes back to early 2021, with Fiat-Chrysler (FCA), later merging with French PSA into Stellantis Group.
Up to 2 300 aircraft per year
Located on an approximately 100-acre campus in Covington, the site will be capable of producing up to 650 aircraft per year starting in mid-2024, with room for expansion of up to 2 300 aircraft per year. That would make this site the world’s leading aircraft manufacturing facility by volume, Stellantis announced in June this year.
Stellantis recently increased its strategic shareholding in Archer Aviation, providing up to $150 million of equity capital for a potential draw by Archer at its discretion in 2023 and 2024 and by purchases of Archer stock in the open market.