Joby CEO still confident about FAA certification timeline
By Ben Forrest | May 13, 2022
Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 4 seconds.
Riding the publicity bump of a high-profile segment with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, Joby Aviation is also trying to tamp down concern about an apparent U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulatory shift impacting the certification of eVTOL aircraft.
Joby said in a first quarter earnings call on May 12 that it doesn’t expect regulatory changes will affect the timeline for certifying its six-motor, four-passenger (plus pilot) eVTOL. Joby plans to use the vehicle as part of aerial ridesharing services in major global markets.
“We’re not providing any change to our guidance,” said Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt. “And we remain heads-down focused on doing the important and necessary work to certify our aircraft.”
Joby has joined its competitor Archer in downplaying the impact of an FAA decision to reclassify winged eVTOLs as powered-lift aircraft under its “special class” process in 14 Code of Federal Regulations 21.17(b), rather than as small fixed-wing aircraft under 14 CFR Part 23 rules.
“We share [the FAA’s] vision for reaching the next level of safety and efficiency,” Bevirt said. “And we support them in their goal of demonstrating global leadership in how new customers and technologies can be safely integrated into the aviation system. We are in active conversations with them about the most expedient route to certifying our aircraft.”
The regulatory shift, first reported by The Air Current, created a stir among industry observers, and eVTOL manufacturers have been trying to allay investor concerns.
He pointed to statements from the FAA, provided to eVTOL.com and other outlets, that indicate the impact will be minimal.
“All of the development work done by current applicants remains valid and the changes in our regulatory approach should not delay their projects,” the FAA said in the statement. “As this segment of the industry continues to grow, we look forward to certifying innovative new technologies that meet the safety standards that the public expects and deserves.”
Joby used the bulk of its earnings call to highlight progress toward certifying its zero-emissions aircraft, which it says will carry four passengers at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour).
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The company said nearly 80% of its means of compliance — a series of steps that will guide part of the certification process — have been accepted by the FAA, with the bulk of the remainder also submitted for review and approval.
Joby’s first area specific certification plan (ASCP), which covers aircraft cabin safety, has also been accepted by the FAA and two further ASCPs have been submitted, the company said.
“It’s worth noting that different parts of the aircraft can be in different stages of the certification process simultaneously,” said Didier Papadopoulos, head of programs and systems for Joby. “It’s also possible to begin work on the next stage before receiving FAA sign-off on the previous one, and that’s exactly what we do at Joby. We always want to be ready for the next stage of the process before it happens.”
The company also said the majority of large composite parts for its first production-intent aircraft have been manufactured, and work has begun on the tail and wing structural assemblies. Joby’s first design-intent electric propulsion unit (EPU) has been manufactured and logged the equivalent of more than 600 flight hours on a dedicated test track.
“We cannot test what we cannot build,” Papadopoulos said. “And we don’t believe anybody else is in this position today — consistently building parts that are designed for production aircraft.”
Part 135 certification progress
Joby said it is also beginning to reach the execution phase of Part 135 operation certification, which would allow it to operate an air taxi service in the United States. The company previously told eVTOL.com of its intent to use a fixed-wing Cirrus aircraft to test its operations before its eVTOL is certified.
The company plans to complete the fourth stage of its Part 135 approval process in Q2 of this year, followed shortly by the fifth and final stage and culminating in formal approval of the Part 135 certificate.
“It’s hard to overstate how important this achievement is to Joby’s vision,” said Bevirt, referring to the NASA testing. “Aviation noise is a key concern for millions of residents around the world. But we’ve demonstrated how Joby is uniquely positioned to deliver flights exactly where people want them without having a negative impact on our environment.”
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Financial statements and market expansion
Joby reported a net loss of $62.3 million in the first quarter of 2022, including operating expenses of $94.3 million. Operating expenses included “stock-based compensation expenses” of $19.4 million, the company said in a shareholder letter.
Joby ended the quarter with $1.2 billion in cash and short-term investments to support operations. Net cash used in operating activities and purchases of property and equipment totaled $72.3 million in the first quarter.
Joby’s air taxi service is expected to initially launch in select U.S. markets, but the company has also announced steps toward similar offerings in the U.K., South Korea and Japan.
“There’s no doubt that [those regions] have really leaned into deploying this technology in their markets,” Bevirt said. “The conversations we’re having with regulators in these countries about route specification and initial operations are very positive and leave me incredibly excited about their potential.”