Joby, a leading developer of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for air taxis and other services, has said it is pushing plans to launch commercial transportation services back a year to 2025, citing internal considerations and shifts in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification criteria.
The decision marks a rare setback for the California-based eVTOL manufacturer and puts Joby at risk of beginning air taxi operations after rivals that plan to initiate services in 2024 – including German company Volocopter. The decision was noted in a quarterly letter to shareholders, touting the highlights of Q3 2022, and during comments to investors and analysts by Joby CEO JoeBen during a Wednesday earnings call.
One of the main factors given for the delay was the decision last March by the FAA to tweak the way it will certify eVTOL air taxis like those Joby is developing. That involved the regulator determining those vehicles would not be evaluated with the same criteria as small planes, but as “power-lift” transportation – closer to helicopters – as outlined in federal aviation regulation 21.17(b).
When the FAA made that announcement, shivers broke out across the next-generation aviation sector, due not only to the conceptual and manufacturing changes the alteration may impose but also the extra time it will take the regulator to complete its rules for companies to act on.
“We originally believed we would certify our aircraft with the FAA under Part 2117A… (and) that path would not have required any new or modified rulemaking on the operational side,” Bevirt said before underlining the consequences of the regulator’s switch to 21.17(b). “This means that to operate our aircraft, we will need (special federal aviation regulations) in place, and the FAA has advised that they don’t expect these to be finalized until late 2024. We therefore don’t expect commercial passenger service to start until 2025.”
Bevirt added that internal considerations had also factored into the delay. Those included trickiness in “having the right team in the right place at the right time,” “adding a number of key members and groups as necessary,” and “translating prototype designs into certifiable parts.”
And while assuring that “Joby is uniquely positioned to navigate these challenges whether internal or external,” Bervit made no apologies for pushing back the company’s launch of eVTOLs as operational air taxis, despite the considerable efforts made to overcome unexpected challenges.
“While these have been critical investments that are producing great results, the learning curve on manufacturing processes has been steeper than originally anticipated,” he said.
It may turn out that rival companies similarly affected by the slow pace of FAA rulemaking may also be forced to move back launch dates. Even if that doesn’t transpire, Joby’s decision to do so will likely represent a delay of months, not years.
Yet its announcement will presumably strengthen attacks by Joby-shorting hedge fund Bleecker Street Capital, which has broadcast accusations that the company considerably oversold its capabilities when it went public last year. Those include allegations of exaggerating its manufacturing capacities and business targets and providing an unrealistically optimistic date for obtaining craft certification.