Archer to begin flying conventional aircraft to hone air taxi procedures

Flights are tied to award of air carrier certificate

Archer Aviation plans to begin flying some of its employees aboard a Beechcraft Bonanza between the company’s operational headquarters at Salinas Municipal Airport and other airports to establish flight procedures in anticipation of starting service in 2025 with its Midnight electric air taxis.

The flights aboard the leased aircraft are scheduled to start in August and will help the Silicon Valley company “lay a strong foundation of procedures that we can easily add Midnight to later and start operating at volume,” Tom Anderson, chief operating officer, told me in an interview. That would include creating a passenger safety briefing, establishing flight planning processes, setting crew rest requirements and deciding weather restrictions.

“The first step is to operate in a way that’s sort of analogous to what you’re going to do with Midnight. And you can say to the FAA, ‘Hey, all I’m doing is changing out one aircraft type for another,’” Anderson said.

Archer will conduct the Bonanza flights under the Part 135 Air Carrier and Operator Certificate that it received from FAA on June 5. Its competitor in the San Francisco area, Joby Aviation, two years ago began ferrying employees on conventional Cirrus jets to develop its own flight procedures.

Bonanza flights may also be conducted in the United Arab Emirates, where Archer in April announced it had signed an agreement with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to accelerate the start of service in that region, Anderson said.

After the Bonanza flights, Archer expects the first use case for Midnights to be carrying passengers to and from regional airports, as an alternative to driving. Passengers would then catch flights on larger aircraft to their destinations. Today, “getting to the airport is the most awful part of the journey,” Anderson said.

Archer has announced some early markets anticipated for this service, including the San Francisco Bay area, Southern California, New York City and the UAE. It has not said which of those will be first.

The Midnight service would begin with airport hopping, but it won’t end there. Midnights could be booked independently to commute to downtown San Francisco or for weekend jaunts to popular destinations like Napa Valley, with a maximum of 95 kilometers.

Anderson compared the service to today’s SkyWest Airlines, which flies mid-sized passenger jets regionally on behalf of Alaska Airways, American Airlines, Delta and United, he said. A former CEO of United sits on Archer’s board and the company is an investor in Archer. Before Midnight service starts, Archer still needs an FAA aircraft type certificate for the Midnight design.

As far as workforce, Archer has pilots on staff to fly the Bonanza, and has also assessed its needs for the coming Midnight flights.

“The real trigger is, as we get closer to having Midnight certified, then we’ll have to start hiring more pilots and other staff,” Anderson said. “Because for each aircraft that’s in commercial operation, give or take a few, you need eight employees per aircraft.”

Over the last few months, Archer has made a string of announcements about the Midnight test flight program and the planning of its commercial service. Most recently, on June 12, the company said a Midnight prototype completed multiple transitions from vertical to horizontal flight.

The successful transitions “show that the design and engineering work is real and becoming increasingly mature,” Anderson said.

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Archer to begin flying conventional aircraft to hone air taxi procedures