The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On The Radar

FAA Issues Proposed Airworthiness Criteria for Archer's Midnight eVTOL Aircraft

The FAA has confirmed the airworthiness criteria it intends to use in certifying Archer Aviation’s eVTOL air taxi. The U.S. air safety agnecy published its notice of proposed airworthiness criteria for the company's Midnight aircraft in the Federal Register on December 20 and is seeking public comments on the proposals by January 19, 2023. 

Archer’s Midnight air taxi is only the second eVTOL design for which the FAA has published specific rules for type certification requirements. In November, the agency released its proposed airworthiness criteria for Joby Aviation’s five-seat eVTOL aircraft, the JAS4-1, providing valuable insight into how it plans to certify this novel type of aircraft.

“From day one Archer’s strategy has always been about finding the most efficient path to commercializing eVTOL aircraft,” said Archer founder and CEO Adam Goldstein. “Today’s publication of our airworthiness criteria in the Federal Register is further validation of our strategy and our leadership position in the market.”

Designed for urban air mobility, Midnight is a piloted eVTOL air taxi that can carry up to four passengers. Although Midnight is expected to have a range of up to 100 miles (160 km) on a single charge, Archer has said it intends to use the fully electric aircraft for short, consecutive 20-mile (32 km) flights that will require only 10 minutes of charging time in between trips. The aircraft is expected to support payloads of up to 1,000 pounds (450 kg) and will have a maximum cruise speed of 150 mph (240 km/h). 

Because eVTOL aircraft share traits of both helicopters and traditional fixed-wing airplanes—taking off and landing vertically while relying on a fixed wing for cruise flight—the FAA in May opted to change the certification requirements for eVTOLs, classifying them as a new “special class” of powered-lift vehicles. 

The airworthiness criteria for this special class of aircraft, established under the provisions of 14 CFR 21.17 (b), include portions of the requirements in 14 CFR Parts 23, 25, 29, 31, 33, and 35 “found by the FAA to be appropriate and applicable to the specific type design,” as well as “any other airworthiness criteria found by the FAA to provide an equivalent level of safety to the existing standards,” the document states.

The FAA document confirms that Archer intends to operate its eVTOL aircraft under Part 91 rules for general aviation and Part 135 rules for commercial air taxi services, and that the aircraft will operate under visual flight rules with a single pilot on board. 

Archer’s Midnight aircraft is the company’s second model and the design it plans to take to market in 2025, following its anticipated type certification in 2024. The company’s initial two-seat prototype, called Maker, received its airworthiness certificate in December 2021, and shortly thereafter it achieved its first hover flight. Earlier this month, Archer announced that Maker had completed its first transition flight, in which the aircraft successfully transitioned from hover to full wing-borne cruise flight. 

Archer revealed its larger Midnight aircraft to the public for the first time in November. The FAA’s notice of proposed airworthiness criteria refers to this aircraft as the Archer Model M001. Archer has said it expects to begin Midnight’s flight test campaign in the first half of 2023, and that it will retire the Maker technology demonstrator from flight testing shortly thereafter.