Before electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) manufacturer Archer Aviation flies air taxi routes in partnership with United Airlines, starting in Chicago and the NYC metro area, it will first need to produce aircraft. The good news is the company now has the funding to do it.
Archer on Wednesday closed financing and development agreements with Synovus Bank and Evans General Contractors, respectively, providing an influx of $65 million in fresh capital. Archer said the funding covers a “substantial majority” of costs associated with the construction of its first scaled manufacturing facility in Covington, Georgia, which began in March.
Both partnerships were previously announced last November when Archer selected Covington for the plant’s location. The $65 million from Synovus adds to $150 million in equity capital provided by Stellantis, which the eVTOL manufacturer can draw from as needed this year and next. Archer and Stellantis announced an exclusive mass production partnership in January.
Incentives from the state of Georgia, also announced last November, round out Archer’s backing for the site, which it said will be “the world’s highest-volume eVTOL aircraft manufacturing facility.”
“We are committed long-term partners to the community in Covington, and we are thrilled to be working with companies who share our vision of having the world’s leading, state-of-the-art eVTOL manufacturing facility right here in the United States,” Archer CEO Adam Goldstein said in a statement.
“Phase 1” of the site’s construction will support the build-out of a 350,000-square-foot facility intended to produce up to 650 aircraft per year.
EHang—which is expected to launch a commercial eVTOL air taxi service as early as this year and has already set up shop in China’s Guangdong province—is initially producing about 600 aircraft annually. The Chinese firm will likely be first to market, followed by Germany’s Volocopter, which plans to build just 50 VoloCity air taxis per year.
Lilium, another German competitor, is looking to churn out about 400 Lilium Jets per year. And not to be forgotten is Archer’s main U.S. rival, Joby Aviation, which announced the site of its own scaled manufacturing facility in September, settling on Dayton, Ohio. That plant is initially expected to produce 500 aircraft annually, with plans for more down the line.
Archer said Phase 1 of construction is “on target” to wrap up in 2024 ahead of entry into service for Midnight, the company’s production eVTOL design. Following that, “Phase 2” will provide the capacity to expand the facility to about 900,000 square feet, allowing it to churn out over 2,000 aircraft per year.
That figure is consistent with Archer’s 2022 projection. At the time, the company said it aims to produce 250 aircraft in 2025, doubling that in 2026 with the goal of reaching 650 by 2027.
“Consistent with our capital efficient strategy of getting to commercialization, we’ve achieved attractive terms on the project,” said Goldstein. “These agreements, along with our already strong partnership with Stellantis, give us the flexibility to ramp up our capacity and become the leading scale manufacturer of eVTOL aircraft in the world.”
While Archer emphasized the scale of its Covington facility, it also said it would be able to keep capital costs lower than those of its competitors.
It expects to do so by leveraging outside aerospace suppliers for the majority of Midnight’s aircraft components to achieve what it called a “capital efficient” process. So far, agreements include a battery development and sourcing collaboration with Stellantis, the delivery of avionics from Safran and Garmin, and the supply of actuators from Honeywell.
The build of the first Midnight aircraft was completed in May at the firm’s Palo Alto, California facility. In a few years, it could be ferrying passengers from the suburbs of Chicago to O’Hare International Airport (KORD) or from Manhattan to New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR).
The five-seat tiltrotor design, built for a pilot and four passengers, utilizes 12 propellers—six on the front wing that tilt forward during cruise and six on the aft wing that remain rigid. Powered by lithium-ion batteries, the aircraft’s propulsion system enables a range of about 52 sm (45 nm) at a cruising speed of 130 knots.
Archer’s vision for Midnight is to replace hour to hour-and-a-half commutes by car with estimated 10- to 20-minute flights. The company claims these will be safe, sustainable, low noise, and cost-competitive with rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft, aided by batteries that can charge in as little as 10 minutes between back-to-back, short-hop flights.
Construction of the mass production plant will be important moving forward. But Archer won’t be able to use the facility to its full potential until it obtains FAA type certification for Midnight, expected in late 2024. Production certification will follow, allowing the company to begin manufacturing its type-approved design at scale.
Aiding Archer’s efforts is a recent Air Force contract worth up to $142 million. The agreement will see AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation arm, deploy up to six Midnight aircraft to an unnamed air force base, where it will use them for personnel transport, logistics support, rescue operations, and more. The collaboration should also allow Archer to test the aircraft’s capabilities and assess the experience of eVTOL pilots.