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FAA FINALISES AIRWORTHINESS CRITERIA FOR ARCHER’S MIDNIGHT EVTOL AIRCRAFT

Archer has been flying its first Midnight eVTOL prototype at a test facility in Salinas, California, since October 2023. It is now building three additional conforming prototypes that it will use for FAA certification testing.

The FAA has issued its final airworthiness criteria for Archer Aviation’s four-passenger Midnight eVTOL air taxi, the California company announced May 23.

 

Archer is now the second eVTOL manufacturer to clear this regulatory hurdle with the FAA, which published its final airworthiness criteria for Joby Aviation’s five-seat JAS4-1 air taxi on April 8. The final criteria for Archer’s Midnight will be formally published in the federal register on May 24.

 

This regulatory milestone “adds significant momentum to Midnight’s certification program as we further ramp up our ‘for credit’ testing efforts with the FAA,” said Eric Wright, Archer’s head of certification. Archer aims to have the Midnight certified for commercial operations in 2025.

 

Because the FAA has not yet established airworthiness standards for aircraft in the powered-lift category, eVTOL air taxi developers seeking certification must follow a “special class” process defined in 14 CFR 21.17(b), and the FAA must approve special airworthiness criteria for every model on a case-by-case basis via a G-1 issue paper.

 

The FAA issued its notice of proposed airworthiness criteria for the Midnight aircraft in the federal register in December 2022, making the document available for public comment. Changes to the final document echo much of what the FAA said in its final airworthiness criteria for Joby’s aircraft and reflect the agency’s attempts to harmonize its approach with that of European air safety regulators.

 

For example, the FAA has updated the criteria for Midnight to add optional “increased performance” approval beyond the baseline “essential performance” targets. The FAA says it will grant the increased performance approval “based on the aircraft’s ability to meet higher performance standards for continued flight under certain failure conditions.”

 

Regardless of whether the aircraft’s performance is classified as “increased” or “essential,” it must be capable of executing a controlled emergency landing in the event that it loses power or thrust. The FAA clarified this expectation in the airworthiness criteria for both Archer and Joby.

 

In response to input from German eVTOL developer Volocopter and others during the public comment period, the FAA has added a section to Midnight’s airworthiness criteria on aeromechanical stability and aeroelasticity, which affects the stability of structures like wings or propellers when they bend and vibrate under aerodynamic stress.

 

In the final document, the FAA says the aircraft “must be free from dangerous oscillations and aeromechanical instabilities for all configurations and conditions of operation on the ground and in flight,” and it “must be free from flutter, control reversal, and divergence…at all speeds within and sufficiently beyond the structural design envelope.”

 

The piloted, four-passenger Midnight eVTOL air taxi is designed to mostly fly on short trips of around 20 miles, although the vehicle will have a range of up to around 100 miles on a full charge.

 

Archer’s first full-scale Midnight prototype began flight testing in October 2023, and the company says it is on track to complete 400 flights with the aircraft by the end of this year. The Midnight prototype has yet to achieve a transition flight from thrust-borne hover mode to wing-borne cruise but the company reported in its most recent quarterly earnings statement that the team is “closing in on its transition milestone.”

 

“Midnight is one giant step closer to taking passengers into the sky in the coming years in the U.S.,” said Archer chief regulatory affairs officer Billy Nolen, who previously served as acting administrator of the FAA. “The final airworthiness criteria for Midnight is an important step on our journey to make electric flying taxis an everyday reality.”

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