Nolen Reportedly Headed To EVTOL Company Archer


Reuters is reporting that FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen will join eVTOL startup Archer Aviation in the next few weeks. Nolen, who’s been the interim leader of the agency for more than a year after Steve Dickson quit in March of 2022, announced his departure last month. Reuters cited unnamed sources and neither Archer nor the FAA would confirm it. Reuters did take another look at his departure notice and noted that Nolen might have left a hint when he wrote “we will see eVTOLs certified in just a few years, instead of decades … Not since the dawn of the jet age have we seen so many advances and changes in aerospace.”

Nolen’s announcement came shortly after Phil Washington, the White House nominee for the FAA post, withdrew after a rough ride during his nomination hearing at the Senate. His relative lack of aviation experience and his brush with a corruption scandal during his tenure as head of public transit in Los Angeles were sticking points with some senators. Meanwhile, Reuters says Katie Thomson, the current chief of staff, may fill in for Nolen while the nomination process is rebooted.

Archer, meanwhile, has the conforming prototype of its multicopter in ground tests and expects to fly it in the next few weeks. The company has received investments from United Airlines and carmaker Stellantis and will start building a factory in Covington, Georgia, next year. It says it will build 2,300 aircraft, named Midnight, a year. The Midnight will carry four passengers and a pilot and is designed for flights of 20 to 50 miles although it has a maximum range of 100 miles.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Is it a good idea for high profile FAA personnel especially ones intimately working on related governmental aerospace regulations/policy to go work in the private sector in that same sector? Seems like this is what Boeing did and developed a too cozy relationship with its regulators. First Joby, now Archer.

  2. While we wait for Pete Buttigieg to jump over from Secretary of Transportation to be the next FAA Administrator nominee….

  3. Can’t fault Nolen for following the money. The executive staff always seems to get paid and paid well, whether or not any hardware is ever delivered.

  4. How can taking a conflict-of-interest job like that possibly be legal? How do laws requiring a “cooling off” period before moving on to related private sector work apply to some Government employees, but not others? This happened before when the FAA official leading the work to privatize FSS went to work for the successful bidder.

    • Good question. The loophole probably lies with his title as “acting” administrator. Since his role as the anointed administrator wasn’t official, he probably gets a pass. Smart man.

  5. This is no different from them hiring an experienced ex-electric motor manufacturing executive for insight into that aspect of their design. It’s not like Archer is competing with the FAA in the regulation-producing business and out to impermissibly steal FAA’s “trade secrets”.

    • This is exactly what Brand X had done. The FAA and Brand X offices circulate employees back and forth and after a while the manufacturer and the regulatory agency are essentially the same people. Regulators are supposed to be independent. They should not be allowed to go work for the people they regulated at least for some amount of time. There are plenty of other jobs for them to get.

      • I understand what you are saying, but the onus would be on the FAA if they later re-hire him, not on Archer or Nolen in this case. When you leave a company, absent any contractual obligations regarding business “secrets” you now ARE an independent person whose loyalties are your own. The FAA’s rules, procedures and internal decision-making processes are not “secret information” – or should not be.

        • That’s inadequate. The rules are needed to prevent an obvious quid quo pro, but even a less obvious environment of expected rewards. Obviously, a regulated company could walk into a regulator’s office and say it’s important to the country that regulations allow some activity because it would create lots of “lucrative job opportunities”. Basically, a bribe.
          Given the oligopolies we now have so many of, all the companies actually need to do is hire enough former regulators that the regulators see their likely future is in the industry.
          The other way around is actually less problematic. Once the executive retires from Boeing, his loyalty is less likely if he cannot return. The regulators can get valued experience hiring former industry.

  6. This will be his sixth different job in eight years. Does he really bring that much to the table?

    • IMO, Nolen sees each job as a way to acquire new knowledge, skills, and experiences that contribute to his growth and development. It seems like every job is an ongoing structuring learning experience for Nolen and people like him. A bold and qualified entrepreneur. Apparently, eVTOL likes his specific set of skills.

      • Oh, one more thing, my sincere impression of ultralight eVTOLs is that they are truly ugly. Their extremely impressive design (ugh!), combined with their ‘potential’ to revolutionize urban mobility, makes them an exciting and epically questionable innovation in the field of urban mobility.

  7. Ethics guidelines at DOT should prevent this sort of thing. Nolen has been busy this past year implementing policies, reversing previous decisions and agreements, and effecting change that have directly benefited Archer. He has and had direct influence over the entire organization that regulates their affairs, and directly set priorities for FAA engineers to work their program. To now go to work for them puts a spotlight on what could clearly be a conflict, and absolutely has the appearance of a conflict of interest. It’s stinks of quick pro quo and should be pursued as a Federal ethics violation. The stench of the DC swamp on this one can be smelled all the way from DC to California.

  8. As so often before, the customers, the regulators, and those providing services change places over and over again. Generals become employees of those delivering the arms, computers, or services, or turn into politicians affecting the policies of the government, to aid and support either the sellers or the armed forces, by directing more money to them.

    The risk of corruption is always huge in such situations, in any country, anywhere!