Archer announces eVTOL vertiport partnership and a deal with the USAF
With its planned SPAC merger just a week away, eVTOL air taxi company Archer has announced a new deal with the US Air Force, a vertiport partnership with Reef, and a preliminary win in its court battle with Wisk over allegedly stolen designs.
Three months after publicly pulling the covers off its full-scale two-seat air taxi prototype, Palo Alto's Archer is steaming towards the New York Stock Exchange, hoping to follow Joby Aviation down the yellow brick road to public listings and multi-billion dollar valuations through a merger with the Atlas Crest Investment Corp, which exists purely for the purposes of backdoor share market entry.
We thought now was a good time to round up some announcements the company has been making lately, all of which are relevant to the listing, but also for general interest in the space as a measure of how Archer's progressing.
The Archer-Wisk lawsuit will drag on, but first blood goes to Archer
Hanging somewhat over the company's head is a lawsuit launched by rival company Wisk back in April, alleging that Archer's Maker aircraft was designed based on designs stolen from Wisk when a group of employees switched companies. Archer has fervently denied these claims, and is vigorously contesting them. Wisk filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Archer from using what it claims are its own trade secrets prior to a full decision on the case.
US District Judge William Orrick denied this injunction in July, saying that while "there are some arguable indications of misappropriation," the case is "too uncertain and equivocal to support a finding of irreparable injury based on misappropriation or that the balance of hardships sharply favor Wisk."
"In essence, Wisk has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits that Archer Aviation, Inc has misappropriated its particular asserted trade secrets," reads the court order." Archer has claimed this as a telling blow for a case it says has never been in good faith and is just a company lashing out at a more successful competitor.
Wisk, for its part, says it's "in the early stages of a long legal process, with in-depth evidence-gathering now to begin," and that it "fully intend(s) to hold Archer accountable at trial," so it could be years before any final outcomes on this one.
A new vertiport deal with Reef
One of the key issues for any air taxi company trying to get off the ground is where the heck you're going to land these things. The eVTOL air taxi model only works if it gives passengers access to a whole bunch of super-convenient vertiports, sprinkled across a city close to key destinations and ready to act as mobility hubs connecting passengers with other modes of transport.
As you may have noticed, these don't exist at this point. But there are certainly companies with massive real estate portfolios driven by pretty similar location requirements – multi-story car park operators already have the buildings, often complete with big, flat top floors that are more or less plain slabs of concrete designed to take the weight of scores of cars.
Joby announced in June that it was partnering with Reef Technology, which owns more than 5,000 sites across "all key metropolitan areas in the US," to start turning selected multi-story car parks into eVTOL vertiports, initially starting with LA, Miami, NYC and San Francisco.
Now Archer has followed suit, inking its own deal, which will involve "light retrofitting of existing parking garages" to operate as vertiports in LA and Miami, Archer's two key launch markets. This kind of thing could develop into a huge money-spinner for car park operators, who have already shown incredible talent at making inert blocks of concrete somehow earn many times more than minimum wage.
A new testing agreement with the US Air Force
Archer's most recent announcement is a partnership with the US Air Force, under the AFWERX Agility Prime program. This, the company describes as "an agreement with the USAF to establish a collaborative strategy to explore the technical readiness and suitability of Archer's eVTOL aircraft for USAF purposes."
"As part of the agreement," continues the announcement, "Archer will provide the USAF and the AFWERX Agility Prime Office with data from certain of its upcoming flight tests for the purposes of furthering the USAF’s understanding of its aircraft’s capabilities, systems and development progression."
Agility Prime, as we've discussed previously, is a fascinating military program essentially designed to kick-start civilian businesses in the advanced air mobility space, in the name of national security. The US, having lost badly to China on consumer drones, really wants to be first on eVTOLs, so it's essentially throwing bones to promising companies like Archer, Joby and Beta Technologies, among others, in the form of testing and evaluation contracts.
These give startups some revenue to help them on their way, as well as some things they can do with their aircraft prior to full FAA certification. That certification is going to take some time; not even Joby, which has already flown thousands of test flights, expects to be certified before 2024. Archer is targeting flight testing to begin "in the months ahead," so we look forward to seeing the Maker in the air soon.