Transportation

Joby Aviation receives permit to fly first eVTOL built on production line

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two joby aviation evtols set in front of a sunset
Image Credits: Joby Aviation

Joby Aviation has reached a series of milestones that put it on track to deliver its first electric aircraft to a customer by 2024 and commercialize an air taxi service by 2025.

Joby’s Marina, California pilot production plant, which operates in partnership with Toyota, has rolled out its first eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle) — made possible by a helpful $180 million injection from investor Baillie Gifford in May. The aircraft is Joby’s first production prototype, and it means Joby is one step away from having a commercially viable eVTOL for passenger use.

The production prototype eVTOL — Joby’s third full-scale prototype — also received a special airworthiness certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and can now begin flight testing.

“This first aircraft coming off our pilot manufacturing line is a really, really big deal for the company,” JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby, told TechCrunch. “We have spent many years building the processes and procedures and capabilities as an organization to be able to deliver this level of of aircraft. We’ve been building since 2017, but to be able to build with this level of rigor is a huge step forward. It prepares us for this next stage of the certification process.”

Joby has already flown more than 30,000 miles since 2019 on pre-production prototype aircraft. This latest iteration builds on that experience and puts the company closer to achieving type certification with the FAA. Type certification means that the FAA approves of Joby’s aircraft design and component parts, and that the design is compliant with the agency’s standards for airworthiness and noise.

Joby nearly has three out of the five necessary stages of the type certification process underway, according to Bevirt. The final step after type certification would be production certification, which will allow Joby to mass produce eVTOLs under FAA-approved designs.

The eVTOL company already received its Part 135 air carrier certificate, which allows Joby to begin on-demand commercial air taxi operations, in May 2022.

Joby’s production prototype aircraft has the potential to be the first eVTOL delivered to a customer, says the company. It will be deployed at Edwards Air Force Base in 2024, per Joby’s Agility Prime contract with the U.S. Air Force, which is worth up to $131 million. To meet that deadline, Joby will have to work quickly with the Air Force in order to secure military airworthiness certification.

The design of that aircraft will be replicated at Joby’s pilot manufacturing facility.

“We have multiple of these aircraft coming down the production line, and that will be what we’ll be using both for customer applications and also for the type certification process,” said Bevirt.

Joby plans to commercialize an aerial rideshare service by 2025.

A deepening relationship with Toyota

Joby’s pilot manufacturing line was built in partnership with Toyota. The Japanese automaker is Joby’s largest external investor and will supply powertrains and actuation components to the company.

“Not only has Toyota invested almost $400 million in the company, they’ve also put a significant number of engineers on site with us working shoulder to shoulder here in California, as well as having a team of engineers back in Japan working on processes,” said Bevirt. “So when people come through our pilot manufacturing line, they can see the incredible technologies and systems that Toyota has brought to bear and help Joby learn about how to do manufacturing.”

The pilot manufacturing line gives Joby the capability to make tens of aircraft per year, said Bevirt. The next stage is building a “phase one manufacturing facility” that will allow Joby to build larger quantities of eVTOL. Bevirt didn’t say where that manufacturing facility would be or when Joby hopes to break ground, but he did say the partnership with Toyota would be essential for that project, too.

In a move that deepens the relationship between the two companies, Joby also announced Wednesday that Tetsuo “Ted” Ogawa, president and CEO of Toyota Motor North America, will join Joby’s board of directors on July 1.

Ogawa has 39 years of experience at Toyota and currently leads Toyota North America as president and CEO, which runs 14 production plants in North America.

“As we look at scaling our manufacturing, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have somebody of his stature joining the Joby board,” said Bevirt. “We think this really demonstrates Toyota’s commitment to leading in this next stage of mobility.”

Aside from a manufacturer-investor relationship, Joby has worked with Toyota and Japanese airline ANA to explore ways to launch an air taxi service in Japan that connects to ground-based transportation.

Bevirt wouldn’t say where Joby intends to commercialize air taxi operations first, but he did say that the company has been working closely with the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, which Bevirt describes as “extremely forward leaning.”

“We’ll be continuing to engage with them on our path to bringing the service to Japan,” he said.

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