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New Horizons

Billy Nolen on AAM: ‘Safety Is Sacrosanct’

Acceptance of advanced air mobility depends on safety, noise levels and effectiveness.

Now that former acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen has started the next chapter of his career by joining electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft developer Archer Aviation as its chief safety officer, he’s sharing his perspectives on advanced air mobility (AAM) as a driver of continued U.S. leadership in aerospace, sustainability and the industry’s future.

“EVTOL and other permutations of these technologies have the ability to unlock the skies from an accessibility and sustainability perspective, which is why you see the government weighing in so heavily. In order to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we have to combine efforts,” says Nolen.

Archer is ready to meet the demands of AAM, Nolen says, noting the company’s agreement with United Airlines to buy more than 100 aircraft and its partnership with automaker Stellantis to achieve scale. The company is already building its first high-volume manufacturing facility, which is expected to produce 650 Midnight aircraft yearly, with a longer-term annual production goal of 2,300.

“We believe, as demand is there, we will be able to scale very quickly to meet the demands of the marketplace,” Nolen says. “We’ve built a significant lead on our industry peers in this area as selecting a site for a manufacturing facility can take years, as does building a high-volume manufacturing facility.”

As for his new role, Nolen says “safety is sacrosanct.” Upon leaving FAA, “one of the things I liked about Archer is the incredible leadership team. They already have a robust SMS in place and will have enterprise-wide SMS, concurrent with the safety work they’re already doing.” The keys to public acceptance will be safety, low noise signature and the industry’s ability to decongest local areas, he says.

“It has to be safe, which is a function of the certification process for aircraft, pilots and operators.”

“The public deserves an equivalent level of safety, no matter what they fly on. It has to be safe, which is a function of the certification process for aircraft, pilots and operators.”

Nolen says he feels very positive about FAA’s Innovate 2028 program supporting early eVTOL operations to achieve scale before the 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Los Angeles. Nolen says it will be a showcase for the U.S. commitment to global leadership in the implementation of eVTOL and other AAM technology. “It’s going to be a very exciting time.”

Prior to his roles at Archer Aviation and acting FAA administrator, Billy Nolen served as FAA associate administrator of aviation safety. Starting his career in the U.S. Army as an airplane and helicopter pilot and safety officer, he later flew for American Airlines and held safety leadership positions at WestJet Airlines, Qantas Airways, Airlines for America and American Airlines.

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