A digital illustration depicts Atlantic Aviation’s Los Angeles FBO modified for eVTOL air taxi operations. [Courtesy: Archer Aviation]
A trio of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi manufacturers signed separate deals to electrify airport infrastructure—all with the same partner.
On Wednesday, Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation joined Beta Technologies in collaborating with Atlantic Aviation, an FBO network and aviation services provider, to add electric charging stations to Atlantic locations across the U.S. The new infrastructure will open up the airfields to Joby’s S4, Archer’s Midnight, Beta’s Alia, and other electric air taxi designs.
Atlantic’s goal is to build technology-agnostic aviation infrastructure—in other words, it plans to work with a variety of firms to electrify its terminals. Joby said its agreement will initially focus on FBOs in New York and Los Angeles. Archer is also eyeing those two markets, in addition to San Francisco and Miami.
Beta, which announced its partnership last week, is targeting the East and Gulf coasts. The firm has already installed a system at New York’s Elmira Regional Airport (KELM) and agreed to add infrastructure to Birmingham International Airport (KBHM) in Alabama, Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (KJAN) in Mississippi, and Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport (KBAF) in Massachusetts.
All three manufacturers have hinted that more sites are on the horizon. In addition, each will work with Atlantic to study how its air taxi design can operate safely alongside traditional aircraft.
Joby and Beta did not provide timelines for their initial projects, but Archer said its early systems will come online in 2025.
“These initial eVTOL vertiport locations will provide a launching pad for future expansion across Atlantic’s portfolio and ensure that our Midnight aircraft has safe, centrally located landing facilities for our future passengers,” said Nikhil Goel, chief commercial officer of Archer.
In addition, a memorandum of understanding between Archer and Atlantic calls for the two to enter a strategic partnership down the line, based on Archer’s commitments for landing and infrastructure investments.
Beta, meanwhile, expects its collaboration to produce a “template” for FBO-OEM relationships. The blueprint would speed the execution of host site agreements (HSAs), which permit manufacturers such as Beta to install electric infrastructure at sites they do not own. Doing so would help the industry prepare for the first passenger-carrying air taxi flights in the U.S., which are expected to begin in 2025.
Clash of the Chargers
While Joby, Archer, and Beta are all working with Atlantic, they will be delivering slightly different systems. In fact, Joby has publicly clashed with Archer and Beta over the firms’ conflicting charging frameworks, both of which attempt to set the industry standard.
Interestingly, Archer will actually be installing Beta’s charging systems at Atlantic sites. The firms partnered in November to expand the latter’s infrastructure under the combined charging system (CCS) standard, which was originally developed for electric ground vehicles to make chargers accessible to any automobile. As part of the deal, Archer purchased several Beta systems and expanded the latter’s network to the West Coast.
The CCS has been proposed as a standard for electric aircraft and was recently endorsed by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), which enjoys significant sway in the aviation industry. Beta and Archer contributed to the endorsement, which also garnered support from Boeing’s Wisk Aero, Lilium, Volocopter, Overair, and other air taxi manufacturers.
Beta describes its solution as an “interoperable rapid charging system” for all kinds of electric aircraft and ground vehicles alike. According to Beta and Archer, “several top OEMs” in the aviation industry are designing for the CCS-aligned systems.
As of Monday, Beta chargers are online at 17 locations nationwide, with a further 55 sites in the permitting or construction process. The network includes the first electric aircraft charger at a U.S. Department of Defense site, which was delivered in September to Eglin Air Force Base’s Duke Field (KEGI) in Florida. Earlier in the year, Beta flew its electric conventional take off and landing (eCTOL) aircraft to the base, testing chargers in its network along the way.
“Over the past several years, Beta has been focused on deploying a reliable, well-distributed network of fast chargers to enable the entire advanced air mobility industry, and we are aligned with the team at Atlantic on our mission,” said Nate Ward, head of charge network development at Beta.
One of the few large manufacturers to snub GAMA’s endorsement of the CCS was Joby, which has come up with its own standard—the global electric aviation charging system (GEACS).
Like CCS, GEACS—which was unveiled the same day Beta and Archer announced their partnership—calls for chargers to be widely accessible. Joby also agrees with its rivals that air taxi manufacturers, not industry outsiders, should be the ones to build the charging systems. But while the proposals have similar aims, there are a few key differences.
Unlike Beta’s system, Joby’s includes a coolant mechanism that keeps batteries at an optimal temperature during charging. Beta opted instead to separate the two systems. Joby’s charger also includes several DC channels, which can be used to juice up multiple isolated battery packs simultaneously. Conversely, Beta’s system requires only one channel—its and Archer’s air taxis concentrate the battery packs in a single location, while Joby’s spreads them across the airframe.
Joby also intends to use an Ethernet connection to download data—such as battery charge level and temperature—while the aircraft charges. That means operations won’t be bogged down by ground personnel. Beta and Archer have not mentioned such a system.
“Through more than 30,000 miles of all-electric vertical flight with full-scale prototype aircraft, our team has fine-tuned a ground support system that allows for the simultaneous recharging of multiple battery packs, external coolant exchange, and secure data offload after flight—making it suitable for all electric aircraft,” said JoeBen Bevirt, CEO of Joby.
According to the manufacturer, GEACS is already in place at its flight test center in Marina, California, and Edwards Air Force Base (KEDW) outside Los Angeles. In addition, at least one other FBO is interested in the system. Joby last week partnered with Clay Lacy Aviation to install chargers at its John Wayne Airport (KSNA) terminal in Santa Ana, California. Clay Lacy Aviation replaced Atlantic as a service provider at John Wayne in 2020.
It’s still unclear which standard—CCS or GEACS—will win out in electric aviation. But for the industry to be accessible, chances are only one will be adopted.
A parallel conflict is unfolding in the electric ground vehicle industry, which may or may not be a harbinger for electric aircraft. In that space, the CCS is steadily losing ground to the North American charging standard (NACS) developed by industry leader Tesla, as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, and other automakers switch over. The NACS is equivalent to GEACS—an alternative standard proposed by a firm unsatisfied with the industry’s recommendation. The comparison isn’t perfect, however, since Joby has yet to reach the scale of Tesla.
If it can, Joby has a real chance at setting the industry standard, despite its rivals’ support of the CCS. But as each manufacturer looks to increase industrywide reliance on its tech, Beta and Archer will likely fight fiercely to be the top dog.