Joby’s flying taxi inches closer to production with FAA testing approval

Joby Aviation Inc. jumped 40% Wednesday after a crucial green light from US regulators in its quest to build electrically powered air taxis.

The company, based in Santa Cruz, California, said in a statement that the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration will let it test flying taxis coming off its production line; it previously could only demo a prototype made by hand. Joby showed off the first aircraft from its manufacturing facility at a media event.

“This is a huge moment,” Joby Chief Executive Officer JoeBen Bevirt said on Bloomberg TV from the factory in Marina, California.

The shares have now doubled since late April. The rally underscores the swelling enthusiasm for a business backed by Toyota Motor Corp. that aims to break through where others have failed in providing inexpensive, vertical-lift aircraft for short hops. The big goal is to create a new category of small electric-powered air taxis designed to zip passengers across cities to avoid car traffic.

But the company still has a long way to go, given that it needs FAA certification, Bevirt said. The firm aims to produce “tens” of aircraft this year from its production line and begin commercial flights in 2025. “We’re still in the crawl phase of this journey.”

Longer-term, Joby is assessing other sites in different US states for a larger facility which could build the aircraft in the hundreds per year, Bevirt said.

The company gave more specifics on the craft, which is designed to take off vertically like a helicopter and then fly similarly to a small plane. Joby said its vehicle can handle a payload of 1,000 pounds, which countered concerns that it wouldn’t be able to meet its goal of carrying four passengers and a pilot, according to Raymond James analyst Savi Syth. 

Additionally, Tetsuo Ogawa, president of Toyota’s North America division, will join Joby’s board on July 1. Toyota is Joby’s largest outside investor with about a 12% stake, according to data calculated by Bloomberg. The automaker has helped Joby build its production capabilities. The companies have a long-term agreement for Toyota to provide powertrain and some components.

The company, which also counts Delta Air Lines Inc. and Intel Corp. among its largest shareholders, said the early production units will become the first electric vertical take-off and landing craft — or eVTOL — to be delivered to a paying customer when the US Air Force receives them next year. Those vehicles are part of a $131 million contract.

Dan Ketchel, Delta’s director of sustainability partnerships and performance, said Joby’s air-taxi service is a good match for the airline’s investments at Los Angeles International Airport, JFK and LaGuardia.

“We’ve made incredible terminal investments over the last couple of years and we’re excited that Joby is bringing a transportation solution that is equally innovative,” Ketchel said.

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