In the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) space, type certification dominates many discussions. But what good is a type-certified electric aircraft with a dead battery?
Beta Technologies and Archer Aviation, two leaders in the eVTOL industry, can tell you: not much. In what the companies are calling an industry-first agreement, Beta and Archer are collaborating on the adoption of a shared charging system for electric aircraft, one that any eVTOL model can use. As part of the deal, Archer purchased several Beta charging stations.
The goal of the partnership, the manufacturers said, is to spur a wide rollout of interoperable electric chargers that follow the combined charging standard (CCS): the most widely used standard for ground-based electric vehicles.
The CCS calls for harmonized charging interfaces. This means that Beta’s Alia-250 eVTOL and its recently unveiled eCTOL (electric conventional takeoff and landing) variant could share a charger with Archer’s Midnight, for example.
Soon, Midnight will plug in to a pair of Beta Charge Cube systems being delivered to Archer’s flight test facility in Salinas, California. The manufacturer will also acquire several Mini Cube mobile chargers, which it will rapidly deploy as needed. The move brings Beta’s charging network, which is largely concentrated in the eastern half of the U.S., to the West Coast.
“Over the past decade, transportation has shifted toward electric, and now we’re seeing resonance and viability for aviation to do the same,” said Kyle Clark, founder and CEO of Beta. “A backbone of reliable, fast, and accessible infrastructure will be critical to enabling this technology, which is why we’ve been focused on building out a charging network alongside our aircraft for some time now. When we designed our chargers, we saw an opportunity to support the entire sector by using an already peer reviewed standard.”
Beta is one of the few eVTOL manufacturers globally developing its own charging stations. So far, the company has systems in use at 14 sites on the East and Gulf coasts.
These include two at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, delivered in September as part of a deal with AFWERX Agility Prime, the vertical lift division of the U.S. Air Force’s innovation arm. The chargers were the first to be installed at a Defense Department facility. Now, Beta is working to add its systems to another 55 locations, including Archer’s flight test facility.
In October, Beta flew the Alia to Eglin’s Duke Field (KEGI), marking its first delivery to a contracted partner. Archer also has a contract with AFWERX for the delivery of six Midnight aircraft to an unnamed air force base, worth up to $142 million, but it has not yet made a delivery. Joby Aviation, another large eVTOL manufacturer, sent the first of nine air taxis to Edwards Air Force Base in California ahead of schedule in September as part of its own AFWERX deal.
Chargers for All
Beta and Archer’s collaboration has implications for the entire eVTOL industry, not just the two partners. While both companies will use Beta’s electric chargers, the idea is for any electric aircraft—including those of competitors, such as Joby’s air taxi—to be able to plug in.
According to the partners, the CCS that Beta is adhering to is also what the top aviation OEMs are designing for. The standards were endorsed by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) in its September Interoperability of Electric Charging Infrastructure report, to which both Archer and Beta contributed. Its conclusions were also informed by Boeing’s Wisk Aero, Lilium, Volocopter, Overair, Embraer’s Eve Air Mobility, and several other large manufacturers.
The CCS includes peer-reviewed and global certification standards and is aligned with the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment’s (EUROCAE) ED-308 provision, which sets minimum requirements for VTOL charging infrastructure around the world.
“The adoption of a unified charging standard will help promote electric aviation’s development at scale,” said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of GAMA. “Enabling electric aircraft and electric ground vehicles from different manufacturers to share charging infrastructure will help reduce the costs of electrifying existing infrastructure. A common standard will boost confidence in the emerging advanced air mobility sector of our industry and encourage adoption of, and access to, publicly accessible charging networks.”
In the eVTOL space, plenty of attention is paid to type certification, and rightfully so: It’s a major milestone, and manufacturers won’t be able to deliver or fly their production aircraft until they reach it. But charging infrastructure is arguably just as crucial a piece of the puzzle.
Similar to electric vehicles, the aircraft won’t be able to scale unless airfields have the systems required to refuel them. For electric air taxis, as for other electric aircraft, rapid charging will be crucial. Many manufacturers, including Archer, claim their services will be cost-competitive with rideshare—to achieve that, they’ll need to keep aircraft downtime to a minimum. Archer, for example, says Midnight will need just 12 minutes of charge time between trips.
“Fast charging is critical to ensure rapid turnaround times between flights,” said Adam Goldstein, founder and CEO of Archer. “A widespread, fast charging system is critical to ensuring electric air taxis reach scale in the coming years, and this collaboration between two industry leaders is an exciting step toward achieving that.”
Designing these chargers to be interoperable promises to be far more efficient than building individualized systems for each eVTOL manufacturer. As the industry scales, the ability for electric aircraft designs (and electric ground vehicles at airports) to share infrastructure should make charging capacity more available, both in the U.S. and internationally.
That last point is key because both Beta and Archer plan to deploy their aircraft outside the country.
Archer’s main partner—and one of its largest backers—is United Airlines, with which it plans to operate air taxi routes in metro areas such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles in 2025. But last month, the firm announced it also plans to launch in the United Arab Emirates the following year.
Beta, meanwhile, has orders from U.S. companies such as Bristow Group and Blade Urban Air Mobility. But it also has a purchase agreement with Air New Zealand, and most recently, it made a historic sale to Canada’s Helijet. The transaction made Alia the first eVTOL model bought by a Canadian air carrier.
Both companies have recently made progress on scaled manufacturing plants to produce their electric aircraft. Beta opened its facility at Burlington International Airport (KBTV) in October, while Archer recently secured $65 million to cover the “substantial majority” of construction costs for its Covington, Georgia, plant.