Santa Cruz’s Joby Aviation unveils new era for its air taxi ambitions with first manufactured aircraft
On Wednesday, Joby Aviation publicly unveiled the first aircraft to roll off its pilot production line. The Santa Cruz-based company also gave throngs of onlookers, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, who gathered in Marina a chance to watch a prototype electric aircraft take flight and announced the appointment of Toyota North America’s CEO Tetsuo “Ted” Ogawa to Joby’s board of directors.
As a series of small and loud single-engine planes took off and landed nearby, a team from Joby Aviation moved onto Marina’s airport runway and readied their nearly silent, electric aircraft for its highly anticipated demonstration flight on Wednesday.
For the crowd of roughly 1,000 employees, investors, regulators and politicians gathered in the spacious hangar, the moment placed them at the convergence of the past, present, and what Joby sees as its future: zero-emission air travel for trips under 100 miles — all within an Uber-like rideshare system.
Invitees flocked to the Marina Municipal Airport Wednesday to watch a demonstration flight and hear Joby’s CEO and founder, JoeBen Bevirt, announce the Santa Cruz-based company’s most significant milestones since it began developing the idea for zero-emission air travel nearly 14 years ago.
Joby used the event to unveil its first aircraft from a production assembly line certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, that aircraft remained grounded and for eyes only. For the demonstration flight in front of the crowd, Joby used the hand-built, pre-production prototype it has been test flying for almost four years.
Where the prototype represented the idea, this newest model represents the real thing — the model Joby expects to bring to market. Joby also announced Wednesday that the FAA had awarded the company a Special Airworthiness Certificate, which means Joby can begin flight-testing the production line model. Previously, it had only been authorized to fly a prototype built by hand.
Joby says it is on pace to deliver the aircraft to the U.S. Air Force at its Edwards Air Force Base in Kern County by the end of 2024. That would make it the first vehicle in the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) industry to be delivered to a customer. Joby has a defense contract with the Air Force worth up to $131 million.
Vehicles in the eVTOL space are different from airplanes or helicopters in that they are fully electric and aimed at sustainable transportation. They take off and land vertically, which eliminates the need for runway infrastructure. Joby’s aircraft, with six propellers and seats for four passengers and one pilot, looks somewhere between a helicopter for the electric vehicle age and a passenger-sized drone. While cruising in the air, the aircraft registers at 45 decibels, quieter than a household refrigerator. It can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour.
By 2025, Joby, which cut the ribbon on a $25.5 million headquarters in Santa Cruz this month, aims to realize a larger vision for its four-person-plus-a-pilot aircrafts: integration into a rideshare service. Think Uber, but for the air.
Joby envisions a system in which people download the Joby app, request a trip, head over to one of the company’s many “skyports” — basically a lounge-styled vestibule next to a landing pad — to get picked up by the aircraft and taken to a destination a short distance away.
The consistent message at Wednesday’s high-energy event was that Joby’s service will relieve people from all the hours wasted in traffic.
“This will transform the way we move around on a daily basis,” Bevirt told Lookout. “We will be able to free ourselves from the constraints of driving in automobiles and we’ll be able to fly to more and more destinations over time. When you can get to your destination five times faster and see the beautiful world from the air, it’s not only more efficient but it’s a spectacular way to travel.”
Monterey County Supervisor Wendy Root Askew, whose district encompasses Joby’s testing facility, spoke excitedly about the company’s work and the benefit to the region, despite her personal skepticism around air taxis.
“I don’t see the air taxis being a thing, it’s for a very small subset of the population, it’s not going to change my life in any way,” Root Askew told Lookout. “But if you listen to what they’re really saying, they’re saying we’re here to design, we’re here to innovate. The applications they have … the technology they’re building out … is relevant across a thousand different industries and a thousand different purposes. So, we’re really at the center of innovation. That’s the part where I’m like, hell yeah.”
Joby has been leading a string of firsts in the still young eVTOL industry. In February, the company announced its second of five required certifications from the FAA before it can begin commercial passenger operations. Joby said it believes it was the first eVTOL company to earn that second certification, which focuses on how a company will demonstrate its alignment with safety standards.
Eric Allison, a former Uber executive who became Joby’s head of product after it acquired Uber’s own air taxi arm, Uber Elevate, attributed Joby’s resume of firsts to how long Joby has been working on its vision. Allison said Joby does not view itself as racing against other eVTOL companies, such as San Jose-based Archer, which has been testing its own prototypes in nearby Salinas.
“We had a vision of what this type of technology could do for society and people that we’ve been pursuing for a long time,” Allison told Lookout. “Someone has to drive and bring this [innovation] to the market. We worked really hard to position ourselves to make this possible. We don’t really worry too much about what other people are doing. We have a vision of what we’re trying to pursue … and we want to keep leading because we’ve been pursuing this vision full speed for a long time and the only direction now is forward.”
Another major announcement Wednesday was the appointment of CEO and president of Toyota North America, Tetsuo “Ted” Ogawa” to Joby’s board of directors. Toyota has struck up a critical partnership with Joby, investing $400 million in the company over the years and offering its expertise on production, engineering and efficiency. Toyota helped Joby design its production line and has a long-term agreement to provide powertrains and other components. The company’s largest shareholders also include Delta and Intel.
Ogawa, speaking to the crowd Wednesday, said Joby and Toyota shared a goal of finding better ways to move people. He said the companies’ engineers were working “side-by-side” to help Joby meet the highest standards of “quality, reliability, safety and cost-effectiveness.”
“Our partnership is not just at the board level and monetary, it’s at the ground level too,” Ogawa said. “The goal is to provide the help they need, whether that is parts, people or processes, so that Joby can achieve the mass production of their eVTOL vehicle.”
Bevirt, who was born and raised in Santa Cruz, says with the second FAA certification in the rear view mirror, the team is “closing in” on the third certification, which focuses on plans for product testing.
“The next step is the really heavy lifting on testing,” Bevirt told Lookout. “The testing team is really crushing it. It’s so much fun to test all these incredible components and prove to ourselves, and to the world, just how safe this aircraft is.”
By the time the markets closed on Wednesday, Joby’s stock price on the New York Stock Exchange surged more than 40%, with its market capitalization rising from $4.03 billion on Tuesday to $5.65 billion on Wednesday.