Joby Aviation unveiled the first electric vertical takeoff and landing production prototype to earn a special airworthiness certificate from the FAA that will enable flight testing toward certification, a milestone that reinforces the California company’s apparent front-runner status in the race to bring a new generation of air taxis to market.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently visited Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt at the production facility in Marina, where the prototype was unveiled June 28—with FAA paperwork in place enabling certification flight testing to begin. Joby has been testing aircraft since 2017, and hopes to field the first eVTOL, though competitors are hot on the company’s heels. The FAA is also preparing to grant the first eVTOL certifications, having established a basis for that certification with Joby in 2020 that was updated and revised in 2022 to comport with the FAA's decision to establish a new class of powered-lift aircraft to include eVTOLs.
Toyota Motor North America CEO Tetsuo "Ted" Ogawa will join Joby's board July 1, the company announced, and Toyota is also the company's largest shareholder, having invested $400 million and established component supply agreements that will help Joby scale up production.
While Joby expects certification and entry into service in 2025, the prototype will head to Edwards Air Force Base in 2024 to mark Joby's first customer delivery, under a U.S. Air Force Agility Prime contract, a program established to accelerate military eVTOL development. (Joby recently gave AOPA a peek at the S4-1 prototype for a feature published in the April issue of AOPA Pilot.)
Completion of a production prototype puts Joby a step ahead of rivals including Archer Aviation, which announced its own FAA certification basis in 2021, and Lilium, the company developing the Lilium Jet in Germany, which reported FAA validation of its certification basis June 27. The FAA plans to eventually standardize eVTOL certification but created a steppingstone to that by combining elements of existing fixed-wing and rotorcraft certification rules and procedures into aircraft-specific certification agreements. A much older (and petroleum-powered) design approval sought by AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) was also repositioned for powered-lift certification, the AW609 tiltrotor. An FAA rulemaking proposal to that effect is open for comment through July 10.
The agency is taking a similar approach to pilot certification as the prototypes begin to line up and test. Another rulemaking proposal published June 14 seeks to establish certification eligibility requirements for powered-lift pilots that are based on a combination of relevant rotorcraft and fixed-wing regulations.
Joby has also established a partnership with Delta Air Lines to establish flying airport shuttles that whisk future Delta passengers to and from the airport. Scaling up eVTOL production and service could potentially exacerbate the pilot shortage, with the supply already falling far short of demand despite recent increases in pilot training and certification rates.