The Air Current

What we still don’t know about Archer’s deal with United

Along with the release of its Q2 financial results this week, eVTOL developer Archer Aviation announced receipt of a $10 million pre-delivery payment from United Airlines for 100 of Archer’s initial production aircraft (which we learned is now called… “Midnight”). United was first revealed as an Archer customer back in February 2021, when the airline conditionally agreed to order up to 200 of Archer’s aircraft, in a deal with a potential value of $1.5 billion including options.

In a Wednesday earnings call, Archer Chief Financial Officer Mark Mesler described the deposit as a “standard commercial arrangement” with future payment milestones in line with “traditional aerospace payment terms”. The money will hang on Archer’s balance sheet as a cash deposit, he said, eventually turning to revenue with Midnight deliveries, which are expected to start in 2025.

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In an industry awash in conditional orders, the pre-delivery payment is meant to “validate confidence in the commercialization of eVTOL aircraft and Archer’s leadership”, according to a press release that described it as “a watershed moment for the eVTOL industry”. Yet, while the payment may well be a significant vote of confidence in Archer, it is simply not equivalent to a traditional aircraft deposit, because United is not a traditional customer.

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U.S. eVTOL developers not waiting on standards harmonization

After the FAA changed course on eVTOL certification earlier this year — deciding to certify winged eVTOLs as powered-lift aircraft under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations 21.17(b), rather than as Part 23 small airplanes — there was speculation that the change could make it easier for the FAA to harmonize its approach with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. This impression was bolstered by EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky, who was quoted in Aviation Week as saying: “I think that the FAA has converged with us on their certification basis for eVTOL, which will make it much easier for both sides to have convergence and to have a common, harmonized way of certifying [these] aircraft.”

Whatever the long-term prospects for harmonization, however, the first wave of U.S. eVTOL developers are evidently counting on moving forward with FAA type certification of their aircraft without having to wait for the bureaucracies to align.

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Advanced air mobility won’t end wildfires — nor should it

Advanced air mobility technology has come far enough now that even its chief detractors are starting to admit that it might eventually be good for something. What exactly it will be good for remains a topic of active exploration.

At the White House AAM Summit last week, Joby CEO JoeBen Bevirt suggested that drones and new eVTOL aircraft, along with conventional helicopters equipped for autonomous operations, could be used to “aggressively fight fire” in a bid to combat climate change by reducing CO2 emissions. Bevirt, who famously built his company in the seclusion of a sprawling forest compound in Northern California, recalled when firefighting aircraft were unable to battle a wildfire in his community because their human pilots couldn’t fly in heavy smoke.

“In my view … our best lever to make a really significant difference in reducing our climate impact is to suppress wildfires,” he said. “If we can have autonomous helicopters that are flying 24/7, we can end wildfire. … We just need to develop a policy and implement it.”

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As Senior Editor, Elan spearheads The Air Current’s coverage of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, along with a focus on emerging sustainable technologies. A commercially-rated helicopter pilot and FAA Gold Seal flight instructor, Head brings a unique vantage point to explore this critical new sector.

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