Joby, Delta Air Lines to pilot home-to-airport eVTOL transportation

Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft startup Joby Aviation is partnering with Delta Airlines to deliver “home-to-airport” transportation services to Delta customers starting in New York and Los Angeles — although it might be more accurate to call it a   “neighborhood-to-airport” service, one that will rely on a network of local vertiports to fly customers quickly and greenly to the airport.

During a press briefing Monday, the companies were scant about certain details, like when exactly they hope to launch this service, how much it might cost and how many Joby eVTOL vehicles would be involved. However, they did share that the deal involved an upfront equity investment from Delta of $60 million, or about 2% stake in Joby, with an additional $200 million to come if certain unspecified milestones are met. While Joby will still run its own standard airport service in priority markets, the partnership with Delta will be mutually exclusive in the U.S. and the U.K. for five years following commercial launch, with the possibility of extending that period.

The move not only allows Delta to offer customers a premium service, but also gives Joby a smoother route to commercialization. As part of the deal, Joby will operate the eVTOL service, but Delta will provide the airport infrastructure, one of the four hurdles Joby needs to jump in order to launch a commercial service.

“That last piece is one of the reasons we’re so incredibly excited about the opportunity with Delta,” Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt told TechCrunch. “Delta has invested billions of dollars in airport infrastructure and has really deep and important relationships with the airports in both New York and LA.”

That said, Delta has yet to begin discussions on vertiport production with John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia in New York or Los Angeles International, according to Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

The other three hurdles, as outlined by Bevirt on Monday, largely revolve around certifications. Joby achieved one of them in May when the company secured its Part 135 Air Carrier certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which allows it to begin on-demand commercial air taxi operations. Before Joby can actually launch, the company must first also secure Type Certification on its aircraft and Production Certification on its production facilities.

What can Delta customers expect?

Getting stuck in traffic to and from airports can easily add several hours to what is often already a long day of traveling. Bevirt said a typical New York eVTOL flight to the airport could cut that travel time down to just 10 minutes. But first, they’ll have to get to their local vertiport.

Although Joby has a partnership with Reef Technologies to convert parking garages in several cities into vertirports, for the partnership with Delta, Joby said it would initially start by tapping existing helipad infrastructure throughout NY and LA. There are three heliports in NYC — one on East 34th Street, another down by Wall Street and a third on West 30th Street. Los Angeles has a handful more that are mainly scattered around the northern suburbs of the city.

When Delta customers go to book a flight, either through the app or online, they’ll have an option to also book a seat in one of Joby’s shared, five-seater aircraft to the airport. Joby also has a partnership with Uber that will allow customers to book Joby rides through the Uber app, so Bevirt said it was possible Uber rides to and from local vertiports might be included in the Delta service one day.

Once at the airport, customers will continue with a streamlined Delta experience. The airline has been investing in digital identity technology, which will allow customers to move through the airport using facial matching rather than having to show a boarding pass or government ID.

“We will be working together with the airport authorities to try to have as fast of a flow through security, ultimately, hopefully, on the other side of security and you can potentially even land on the on the tarmac itself but that’s kind of a future state,” said Bastian at Monday’s briefing.

The vertiports won’t be Delta branded, but they will be located close enough to Delta lounges and terminals to give users “easy access into the Delta premium airport experience,” said Bastian.

“A premium experience doesn’t necessarily have to translate to a premium price,” said Bevirt. “We want this to be a really compelling price point.”

What that price point will be, however, is anyone’s guess. Since the partnership is still in its early days, Joby and Delta were unable to provide a ballpark cost for such a service. Bevirt said he hopes Joby can keep prices down by relying on cost savings provided by the company’s electric propulsion system, which has lower maintenance and operating costs.