Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft manufacturer Archer Aviation has been a major beneficiary of acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen’s leadership on modern aviation technology, like the company’s air taxis.
But Nolen, who is departing the agency this summer, may soon take that relationship to new heights.
This week, sources told Reuters that Nolen is expected to take a position with Archer after leaving the FAA, a move that would likely aid the firm in its quest to certify its flagship Midnight air taxi. Given his familiarity with the FAA’s certification process and road map for eVTOL operations, Nolen would appear to be a valuable asset to the company.
“Billy Nolen is departing the FAA in the coming weeks and is continuing to ensure a smooth transition at the agency,” the FAA told FLYING in an email. “Nolen will abide by the agency’s strict ethical requirements during the transition.”
Before being appointed acting FAA Administrator, Nolen had previously served as the agency’s associate administrator for aviation safety. He also led safety, security, and regulatory affairs for several airlines, including WestJet, Qantas, and American Airlines, where he spent 26 years as a managing director.
Nolen received his Bachelor of Science in aviation management from the world-renowned Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and owns aviation safety certifications from the University of South Carolina and the Naval Postgraduate School.
Should he join Archer, the move would mirror one that rival Joby made in March, when it appointed former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to its board of directors.
Earlier this month, Archer completed the final assembly of Midnight, shipping it to its Salinas, California, flight test facility in anticipation of its maiden voyage this summer. First unveiled in November, the aircraft is designed to complete back-to-back 20-mile flights with just 12 minutes of charging between them.
With a maximum payload of 1,000 pounds, Midnight can carry a pilot and four passengers. Archer hopes it will replace congested, hourlong commutes with 10- to 20-minute air taxi flights, which it believes will make the company cost-competitive with ground transportation services like Uber.
After conducting flight tests with its current aircraft this summer, Archer expects to finish building a type-conforming Midnight model by late 2023. That version is the one the company will fly during “official” testing with the FAA, and the hope is for that process to conclude—and for Midnight to be certified—by the end of next year.
It will then be ready to take to the skies in Chicago, where Archer plans to launch an air taxi route with United Airlines by 2025. Initially, the service will offer trips between the city’s O’Hare International Airport (KORD) and Vertiport Chicago (43IL)—the largest VTOL facility in North America—before branching into new routes.
Archer and United are also eyeing an air taxi link between Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR) and the Downtown Manhattan Heliport (KJRB).
The company’s efforts are being aided by a $150 million investment from automaker Stellantis, which in January agreed to help mass produce Midnight aircraft after certification. Archer and the rest of the industry may also receive a boost from the FAA’s advanced air mobility implementation plan, which is expected to be released in the coming days.
The implementation plan will build on the FAA’s air taxi blueprint, released earlier this month to provide guidance on future urban air mobility policy. The agency will also host an AAM Summit in Baltimore in August, though it will do so without Nolen, whose successor has yet to be named.
President Joe Biden initially nominated Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington for the position, but he quickly bowed out of the race. No official nominee has been announced since. But reports suggest Biden is now considering nominating AAM executive Mike Whitaker or current FAA Chief of Staff Katie Thompson.
Ultimately, the decision on Nolen’s successor could help or hurt Archer and other air taxi manufacturers. But Whitaker, the COO of Hyundai eVTOL subsidiary Supernal, and Thompson, a direct adviser to Nolen in her role, are likely candidates to continue the departing administrator’s work.