Archer Aviation this morning announced plans for an anticipated $1.1 billion share flotation through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Atlas Crest Investment Corp. At the same time, it reported that United Airlines has signed an agreement valued at an initial $1 billion (rising potentially to $1.5 billion) to purchase up to 200 of its four-passenger eVTOL aircraft. This would imply a price for each aircraft of $7.5 million.
The $1.1 billion target for the amount of capital raised through the SPAC deal includes $600 million in a common stock PIPE (public investment in private equity) commitment backed by United Airlines, Stellantis, Exor, Baron Capital Group, the Federated Hermes Kaufmann Funds, Mubadala Capital, Putnam Investments, and Access Industries. Atlas Crest chairman Ken Moelis and Archer’s initial financial backer Marc Lore are investing a combined figure of $30 million in the new company.
Based on the published $10 share price, the merged venture is expected to be valued at $2.7 billion. The deal is expected to be closed during the second quarter of 2021.
Atlas Crest has filed the required 8-K investment form with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The new company will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “ACHR.”
United Airlines intends to use Archer’s four-passenger eVTOL aircraft to carry its customers to and from its major hub airports beginning in 2024. In partnership with regional carrier Mesa Airlines, it holds a $500 million option for additional aircraft.
A statement from United Airlines said it will acquire the aircraft once they "are in operation and have met United's operating and business requirements." The major carrier said that the aircraft will be operated by an unspecified partner. It did not confirm whether or not a deposit has been made on the possible aircraft purchases.
Details as to how the service will be provided remain vague. The February 10 announcement described the deal as a “collaboration agreement” for “close cooperation between United Airlines and Archer in a commercialization approach which emphasizes existing technology and elegant design to facilitate regulatory approvals and efficient manufacturing culminating in a luxury experience at a scaled, low delivery cost point.”
Archer, which was founded in 2020, said that it intends to operate the aircraft itself as well as via partners. The company has previously indicated that ride costs will be comparable to those for the UberX premium car service.
In the announcement, Archer described itself as an airline. However, the startup has not explained how it intends to secure the required Part 135 or Part 121 license to provide either scheduled or charter air services.
According to United, using the Archer eVTOL for a trip between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport would cut in half the carbon emissions for each passenger compared with an automobile ride. Archer said this statement reflects average U.S. vehicle occupancy numbers.
“With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to get them off the ground,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “Archer’s eVTOL design, manufacturing model, and engineering expertise have the clear potential to change how people commute within major metropolitan cities all over the world.”
Archer says it will unveil a full-scale prototype of its aircraft later this year. The all-electric aircraft, which will have a pilot on board, is expected to fly up to 60 miles at speeds of up to 150 mph.
In January, Archer announced a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to provide composite materials and engineering support for its aircraft. Fiat Chrysler is part of the Stellantis automotive group, which was formed through a merger with France’s PSA.
Atlas Crest Investment Corp. was created through a $500 million initial public offering in October 2020. It is backed by an affiliate of financial advisors known as Moelis & Company.
Mubadala Capital is part of the United Arab Emirates’ Mubadala sovereign wealth fund. The group’s aerospace division includes aerostructures specialist Strata, which makes components for Airbus, Boeing, and Pilatus Aircraft.
[This story was updated on February 12 to revise the projected valuation of Archer]