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Joby shares eVTOL air taxi rollout plans

By Jen Nevans | June 24, 2024

Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 49 seconds.

New York City and Los Angeles will be the first two U.S. cities that will see aerial ridesharing using Joby Aviation’s eVTOL air taxi. And the pilots who will fly the aircraft — at least in the first few years of operations — will be former military and commercial airline pilots.

This is according to company executives who said they’re receiving “a lot of interest” from candidates in the type of pilot career Joby can offer them. These are the pilots “who decide that they want to live and work in the same region and be home every night,” Bonny Simi, president of operations at Joby, told investors during a June 20 webinar. “I constantly have pilots reaching out. They’re very excited [to be a part of the] initial cadre, to be part of that initial group.”

But as the company treads further into unchartered territory, developing an all-electric next-generation VTOL unlike any aircraft that’s been type certified, the question remains: how will these pilots learn how to fly an eVTOL?

In what the company calls its “preflight checklist,” Joby executives shared with investors the company’s work leading up to what it hopes will be first air taxi operations in the U.S. in 2025. This includes training the first pilots to operate its air taxi routes, and building a pipeline of qualified eVTOL pilots for the future.

Joby plans to help its pilot candidates build flying hours through its part 141 pilot school certificate, as well as its Level C full-flight simulator, developed by Canadian aviation training firm CAE, and qualified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under part 60.

Joby Aviation has selected New York City as one of its eVTOL air taxi launch markets in the U.S. Joby Aviation Photo

In addition to the flight simulator training, this six-week type rating course will include training materials and manuals, flights in Joby’s actual eVTOL aircraft, competency checks, and a final checkride in the simulator, followed by initial operating experience in the market prior to carrying passengers.

“This is very similar to the type of training an airline pilot receives when they learn a new aircraft,” Simi said. “We expect our initial several years of operation will be staffed by pilots with experience in airline or military flying. However, we know that to scale, we will need to develop our own pilot training pipeline.”

For new pilots, Joby is working on creating a part 142 private pilot ground school that will train new candidates and broaden the sector’s access to qualified eVTOL pilots. And as the FAA works to finalize its Special Federal Aviation Regulations (SFARs) for eVTOL operations and pilot training, Simi insists the company’s training program will be in line with the SFAR.

“We’re designing our pilot training curriculum to adapt to whatever that training requirement will be, whether it needs a type rating or not, because our program is very robust and is already set to type rating standards,” Simi said. “We’re using simulators for this, which is very typical to how airline pilots or military pilots learn to fly jets. It’s a very sim-based approach.”

As Joby works through the final leg of type certifying its piloted, four-passenger eVTOL, the company is looking at launching commercial air taxi operations in New York City and Los Angeles as soon as 2025, alongside partners Delta Air Lines and Uber.

Joby plans to launch overseas in markets like Dubai where it has already secured a six-year contract to exclusively operate air taxis in the city, as well as Abu Dhabi where it signed a memorandum of understanding with the government for operations.

Outside of passenger-carrying services, the company is also tapping into its partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and other similar partners that are interested in purchasing the aircraft for their own operations.

Building air taxi experience

Through its part 135 air carrier certificate that Joby received in 2022, the company has already gotten a head start on testing out its air taxi operations.

“For two years now, we’ve been flexing the muscles of our air taxi operations using a Cirrus SR22, which is an aircraft that can be operated with one pilot and four passengers, just like our Joby aircraft,” Simi said.

The air carrier certificate allowed Joby to develop a safety management system (SMS) through the FAA’s voluntary SMS program, putting the company ahead of the FAA mandate for all part 135 operators to develop an SMS within the next three years. Joby was also able to test out its FAA-authorized operating system: ElevateOS.

“To put it simply, you can’t develop an aircraft by just dropping it into one of today’s existing airliner helicopter operations and expect it to be successful,” said Eric Allison, chief product officer at Joby. “You have to do the hard miles on the software, too, which is exactly what we’ve done.”

As a former Uber Elevate executive, Allison worked with some of the original Uber Elevate team members to develop the suite of tools that make up ElevateOS.

Comparing it to the central nervous system in a human body, ElevateOS “delivers real-time communications between all the various parts of our operation, while making sure that they all work coherently together.”

Joby’s proprietary ElevateOS air taxi software system includes an operations core, a pilot app, and a consumer-friendly rider app, all of which have been FAA-authorized for use by Joby’s part 135 organization. Joby Aviation Image

ElevateOS includes an electronic flight bag for the pilot and flight crews that allows them to complete their pre- and post-flight checks. This includes providing them with information on passengers for weight and balance of the aircraft, as well as their duty assignments and logbook.

The system also has an operations and scheduling software component, which manages the aircraft and pilot availability, routes, maintenance, and landing pad access, as well as a mobile-first rider app, which is the passenger interface that allows people to book and pay for flights. ElevateOS also includes an intelligent matching engine, which is similar to those used by ride-hailing apps today.  

Covering off all aspects of the operation and proving out its vertically-integrated approach, Joby has also received a part 145 maintenance certificate, which allows it to open maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) shops in key launch markets. Joby said it is already in the site planning process to develop an MRO base to support Dubai operations.

“There are currently no training programs for mechanics on eVTOL aircraft, or electric propulsion in general,” Simi said. “So we’re developing these programs in-house for our mechanics, and I’m proud to say that we received a $1 million grant from the FAA to support this program.”

Joby said it intends to offer some of its services, such as its pilot training and ElevateOS, to its customers who purchase a Joby aircraft as part of an add-on service package. 

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