By Elan Head

An award-winning journalist, Elan is also a commercial helicopter pilot and an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor with helicopter and instrument ratings. Follow her on Twitter @elanhead

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Joby Aviation expects to have ‘first-mover advantage’ in aerial ridesharing

Joby Aviation expects to be the first eVTOL developer to receive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification and the first company to introduce large-scale commercial operations with an eVTOL aircraft, according to a new filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Joby Aviation eVTOL
Joby says its eVTOL aircraft has a fault-tolerant overall architecture, which should aid in certification. Joby Aviation Photo

The form S-4 filed by Reinvent Technology Partners, the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that will be combining with Joby to take it public, provides a comprehensive overview of Joby’s operations and new details about the company that is widely perceived to be the eVTOL industry’s leader.

The Santa Cruz, California-based company now has over 750 employees, with more than 400 engineers including 30 certification experts working to bring its five-seat, fully electric air taxi to market. Joby says it has completed more than 1,000 test flights across various prototypes, most of those remotely piloted, although it also performed short piloted hover flights in 2020.

Joby believes it is the only eVTOL air taxi developer to have agreed to a G-1 certification basis with the FAA, providing it with a clear path for certifying its aircraft design and putting it ahead of its competitors in the race to commercial operations (although Lilium recently announced it has received an equivalent certification basis from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency). “With a mature design based on more than 1,000 test flights to date, we are well on our way towards certification and engage with the FAA on a daily basis to perform the hard work and testing required to earn FAA type certification prior to our 2024 commercial launch goal,” the S-4 states.

“There are no shortcuts, and it takes years to develop the team and the expertise needed to develop a certification basis with the FAA,” the filing continues. “The companies in our industry that are following our lead will also need to put in the hard work to develop the team and work independently with the FAA to solidify their own path to certification.”

The filing acknowledges both benefits and potential drawbacks to Joby’s first-mover status. The company doesn’t intend to sell its aircraft to third parties; instead, it will manufacture, own, and operate its piloted aircraft as part of an app-based aerial ridesharing service that aims to capture a large share of the emergent urban air mobility (UAM) market in locations that have yet to be announced.

“We believe that being first to market with the right aircraft will provide important first-mover advantages that will enable us to steadily drive down end-user pricing in the years following commercial launch,” the document states. Through a combination of local network effects and economies of scale in manufacturing, Joby estimates that it will be able to offer its service at a cost of $3 per passenger mile by 2026, with opportunities to drive end-user pricing down even further over time.

Joby Aviation eVTOL
Joby’s eVTOL is designed meet the criteria of FAA part 23 as a normal category piloted electric airplane that can also takeoff and land vertically. Joby Aviation Photo

Joby contends that the rigorous multi-year certification process will limit the ability of competitors to rapidly enter the market, providing for “an extended window in which to enjoy the benefits of the network effects.” However, the company also expects the UAM space to be “dynamic and increasingly competitive.”

“It is possible that our competitors could get to market before us, either generally or in specific markets,” the filing grants. “Additionally, our competitors may benefit from our efforts in developing consumer and community acceptance for eVTOL aircraft and aerial ridesharing, making it easier for them to obtain the permits and authorizations required to operate an aerial ridesharing service in the markets in which we intend to launch or in other markets.”

The combination with Reinvent Technology Partners is expected to give Joby up to $1.6 billion in additional cash, which the company anticipates will provide sufficient funding to support initial commercial operations. Joby has already spent more than $296 million developing its aircraft, including over $108 million in research and development expenses in 2020 alone.

Although Joby’s primary focus is on the urban air mobility market, it also has a multi-year relationship with the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program, which will help it understand the operational capabilities and maintenance profiles of its aircraft in advance of commercial launch. As the first eVTOL developer to secure a military flight release, it started on-base operations under contract with the Air Force in the first quarter of 2021.

According to the S-4, Joby’s existing contracts with the Air Force provide for more than $40 million of payments through 2024 based on full performance, and the company is actively pursuing additional contracts and relationships that would further secure these on-base operations going forward.

Joby also had a surprising source of income last year in SummerBio, a provider of high-volume, rapid Covid-19 diagnostic testing that was a fully consolidated subsidiary of Joby from its establishment in May until its deconsolidation in August 2020. Joby, which retained a 45.5 percent ownership interest in SummerBio as of Dec. 31, 2020, recognized its share of SummerBio’s income as $5.8 million under equity method of accounting.

The form S-4 also confirms some additional details about its eVTOL aircraft and development plans. Joby believes the aircraft’s 150-mile (240-kilometer) range on a single charge and 200 mph (320 km/h) cruise speed represent “best-in-class” performance specifications, with energy efficiency comparable to electric ground vehicles on a watt-hour per passenger seat mile basis across most trip distances. Joby plans to operate the aircraft on trips between five and 150 miles (eight and 240 km).

With respect to noise, Joby says its aircraft has a noise profile in the range of 65 dBA during take-off and landing — “roughly the volume of a normal speaking voice” — and is near silent in overhead flight, even when as low as 500 to 1,000 feet above ground level. Joby anticipates it will initially certify the aircraft for day and night visual flight rules (VFR) operations and “quickly amend the design to include instrument flight rules (IFR) capabilities.”

The form S-4 highlights Toyota Motor Corporation’s role not only as Joby’s largest outside investor — having invested nearly $400 million in the company to date — but also as a strategic partner working closely with Joby on factory planning and layout, manufacturing process development, and design for manufacturability. “We believe that our collaboration with Toyota has provided and continues to provide us with a significant competitive advantage as we design and build out our high-volume manufacturing capability,” the form says.

For its prototype production line, Joby has leased facilities from the City of Marina, California, totaling approximately 130,000 square feet. The company has also entered into a ground lease agreement with the city that can be extended for up to 50 years, with approved plans for the construction of a 580,000-square-foot high-volume production facility on the leased site.

Although Joby is pursuing innovative manufacturing techniques including additive manufacturing, the company recognizes that the certification of unconventional production processes carries additional risk. “As a result,” the filing says, “we have ensured that our aircraft can be produced utilizing conventional aerospace manufacturing techniques in the event additively manufactured components or other advanced production processes cannot be certified expediently.”

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2 Comments

  1. Could we start a betting pool on this? 1st to Cert under new FAA Part 23 amend 64 – could prove quite challenging…

  2. I would like to know what the “engine out” procedures are for this type of aircraft.

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