Following a year of up-and-down news, Archer Aviation this week gave itself something to smile about with the introduction of its Maker electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) demonstration aircraft. That, and its recent receipt of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Special Airworthiness Certificate, will enable its first hover test flights later this month – and the promise of going out of 2021 on a high note.
Archer officials unveiled their Marker demonstration eVTOL in a video featuring the craft being towed from a hangar to a runway, where its rotors begin spinning as if it were about to takeoff. The detail that it doesn’t (at least not in the video) should be of far less note than the fact it was outside and whirring up a storm in the first place. Some skeptics wondered if it ever would.
Indeed, for months know, a major knock on Archer has been that – for a company touted as one of the brightest hopes in the budding advanced air mobility sector – it had yet to produce an actual vehicle that wasn’t entirely the figment of a computer’s imagery software. Major eVTOL rivals like Volocopter, EHang, Lilium, and Joby, by contrast, had not only manufactured and begun flying aircraft demonstrations around the globe, but are now reportedly rushing toward nearing commercial certification to boot.
But with visual proof of Archer’s Maker eVTOL not just assembled with propellers spinning up a storm, but also cleared for off-ground testing with its FAA certificate, both the craft and company have rid themselves of what had started to become a vexing, even suspicious “virtual” qualifier.
“Earning our Special Airworthiness Certificate from the FAA marks a significant moment for our company as we take another leap ahead toward our goal of bringing eVTOL travel to the world,” said Brett Adcock, Archer co-CEO. “We’re glad to share a commitment with the FAA to create urgently needed air transportation solutions… In a year of exciting milestones for Archer, this moment serves as a key validator for the incredible work our team is doing to transform our vision for urban air mobility into a reality.”
Yet despite that uplifting year-end news, 2021 was not always kind to the San Francisco-based company.
It remains locked in a bitter and at times ugly patent lawsuit with rival Wisk, which accuses Archer of stealing intellectual property its eVTOL craft were allegedly conceived with. Both sides have scored victories in the case – including a judge denying Wisk’s request to halt development of Maker until a final verdict is handed down. A trial jury set to start hearing the litigation in January, with potentially hundreds of millions in damages on the line.
Meanwhile, introduction of Archer stock on Wall Street announced with high expectations in February was finally completed in September with far more modest results. Though initially targeting a $2.7 billion valuation through a Special Purpose Acquisition Company merger, the floatation netted only $857 million after many existing Archer investors waived their redemption rights. Part of that hesitation – though certainly not all – reportedly arose from concerns about the flagship Maker eVTOL still being a “virtual” aircraft so late in the game.
But that is now a qualifier of the past, with Archer undertaking final preparations for its first eVTOL hover test flight before the end of the year, and extensive safety testing after that. Its FAA Special Air Worthiness status, along with two earlier certifications Archer received this autumn, should allow Marker to proceed on the timeline the company previously set to begin its first commercial eVTOL operations in in 2024. All of which may be the best news Archer could have hoped to close this mixed year out with.
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