Joby Aviation says it is on track with its plans to start commercial passenger flights with its eVTOL aircraft. Speaking at the Vertical Flight Society’s Electric VTOL Symposium on January 26, Eric Allison, the company’s head of product, said Joby intends to “double down” on implementing the business model defined by Uber’s Elevate division, which it has just acquired from the ridehailing group.
Uber had intended that some limited-scale air taxi operations would begin in Los Angeles and/or Dallas during 2023. Joby, which was one of 10 manufacturing partners in the program, believes it can complete type certification in 2023 and be ready to begin operations in 2024.
“We now believe we will get to market faster than we [had previously] thought possible,” Allison said, indicating that the company expects to make more specific announcements about “vehicles, production, and markets” in the next few months.
Allison, who was formerly part of the senior leadership team with Uber Elevate, said that the unforeseen challenges presented by the Covid pandemic in 2020 prompted some in the industry to reconsider the business models they had been working on—a possible reference to Uber’s move to stop being directly involved in the launch of advanced air mobility services. He said that Joby’s vision of saving one billion people worldwide one hour per day still stands and that this will involving deploying thousands of new aircraft to transform the transportation landscape of cities.
Allison reflected on the lessons that have been learned from Uber’s extensive modeling of how air taxi networks would be shaped and also from its Uber Copter experiment with rotorcraft flights in the New York City area. In his view, convincing travelers to see advanced air mobility as an everyday mode of transportation “requires a behavior change and change is hard.”
Based on Uber’s early development work, Allison said that consumer perceptions and concerns over the safety of helicopters and eVTOL aircraft present a significant challenge and that another is ensuring a seamless and efficient multimodal network in which transfers to and from aircraft go smoothly every time. “The first-mile [in which the passenger is taken to the aircraft] is the key, and a well-executed trip [also including the last-mile following the flight] should seem like magic,” he commented.
For Joby, aircraft are just one in a series of enabling technologies, alongside new apps to allow passengers to book rides, vertiports, and other aspects of multimodal transportation infrastructure. The California-based company has disclosed few details about its planned eVTOL aircraft, but the current prototype is understood to have five seats (including one for a pilot, initially) and be able to fly up to around 172 miles at 200 mph.
More than 575 people had registered for the Electric VTOL Symposium by the end of the first day of the event, which runs through January 28. This was nearly 100 more attendees than the Vertical Flight Society attracted last year.