Five weeks after the crash that took Joby Aviation’s first pre-production eVTOL prototype out of its flight test program, company executives have addressed the accident.
“At this stage, we do not expect the accident to have a meaningful impact on our business operations or certification timing, and I’m happy to confirm that our second pre-production prototype has already returned to flight testing,” JoeBen Bevirt, Joby’s founder and CEO, told shareholders during the company’s Q4 earnings call on Thursday.
This was the first time Joby publicly commented on the Feb. 16 crash that led the company to voluntarily put its flight test program on hold to allow the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the incident.
Due to the ongoing investigation, Joby had been unable to comment on anything about the accident, leaving observers wondering how the crash would affect the eVTOL developer’s aggressive timeline to type certify its five-seat air taxi and begin passenger services in 2024.
While Joby is still not permitted to address the details of the accident, Bevirt said the company carried out a “normal part of flight testing that’s designed to understand how the aircraft performs across its entire range of performance — what is known as a flight envelope.”
NTSB investigators confirmed there were no injuries during the accident, which happened over an uninhabited area near Jolon, California. Its March 8 preliminary accident report indicated Joby’s first pre-production prototype experienced a “component failure” that resulted in “substantial damage” when the aircraft crashed last month.
Restarting flight test program
“We’re excited to be back in the air with our second pre-production prototype, building on the tremendous flight test achievements our team has made to date,” said Didier Papadopoulos, head of programs and systems at Joby.
Joby said while its first pre-production prototype will not return to flight testing, the aircraft accomplished its goals, demonstrating all key performance attributes — flying at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) and reaching an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters).
“Last year alone, we flew more than 5,300 mi [8,530 km], generating 65 terabytes of flight test data and demonstrating an endurance of 154.6 mi [248.8 km] on a single charge,” Papadopoulos said.
Joby’s second pre-production prototype joined the fleet last year after receiving airworthiness approvals from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Air Force in December 2021. Since its first flight in January, the second prototype completed 38 flights, reaching speeds of more than 90 mph (145 km/h), the company said.
The aircraft had been originally earmarked for flight testing through the Air Force’s Agility Prime program to explore military applications, but Joby indicated to shareholders the aircraft will now be mainly used for flight testing for FAA type certification.
Papadopoulos said the second prototype will be used to test “a separate area of the envelope, focusing on ground testing, hovering, take-off and landing conversions, and so on. We will spend quite some time this year focusing on this area.”
In its path to certification, Joby plans to develop an eVTOL that would fit into the FAA’s existing Part 23 regulations for a traditional airplane. The company is the first eVTOL developer to sign a G-1 (stage 4) certification basis with the FAA, after having received an initial (stage 2) signed G-1 in 2019. Papadopoulos said the company now has more than two-thirds of its means of compliance agreed with the FAA.
To reaffirm its certification timeline with shareholders, the California-based company recently announced a number of certification milestones, including submitting its first area-specific certification plan to the FAA.
Joby’s first submission focuses on cabin safety, and includes design reports, analysis, and testing that it plans to carry out to demonstrate the materials, seats, and occupant restraints used inside the aircraft will comply with FAA safety standards.
Last week, Joby announced it had obtained approval for its first systems review and compliance review from the FAA. The systems review looked at Joby’s plans and process for developing aerospace-grade systems and equipment, including flight controls, propulsion controls, and battery management, among other systems. Meanwhile, the compliance review looked at Joby’s approach to developing and verifying aerospace-grade software and airborne electric hardware.
Tom Ferrell, development assurance lead at Joby, said in a statement that the company is now progressing to the second round of reviews involving the outputs of Joby’s development process, “including validation of certification requirements, design capture, and implementation of that design in both hardware and software.”
Manufacturing and operations
With its certification process underway, Joby reported to shareholders that it has started developing its first production-intent aircraft earlier this year at the company’s new 125,000-square-foot (11,613-square-meter) manufacturing facility. The company said it expects to fly this eVTOL later this year.
Along with manufacturing its aircraft, Joby also intends to operate its own eVTOL passenger services. The company announced last week that it has reached the fourth stage of the five-stage process for obtaining its Part 135 air carrier certification from the FAA. Joby said it plans to use a conventional fixed-wing aircraft — likely a Cirrus model — to test its air taxi operations in the U.S. until its eVTOL is certified.
Q4 2021 financial highlights
In a letter to shareholders, Joby reported an operating loss of US$77.2 million, which was offset by US$71.7 million in other income, as well as US$10.5 million in tax benefits related to the Uber Elevate acquisition. This left the company with US$5 million in net income at the end of the fourth quarter.
The eVTOL developer also reported US$1.3 billion in cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities at the end of 2021, which Bevirt said “should be sufficient to support us through commercialization.” The company spent US$62.3 million on operating activities, property and equipment purchases, and acquisitions.