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Fasten your seatbelts: electric air taxis should fly over the horizon from 2024

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The promise of quiet, fast and emissions-free flights is expected to create a $ 120 billion market for urban air mobility by 2030.

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Joby Aviation, which promises to build and operate a commercial fleet of air taxis by 2024, began trading in August, testing the imaginations of public investors, with shares surging more than 12% over the course of the year. first hour of negotiation. Since then, the stock has steadily fallen below its opening price of US $ 9.75 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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Since its founding in 2009, Joby has sold Uber Technologies Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. as part of its project to build a new type of passenger drone and has raised more than US $ 700 million in private capital. A merger in August with a special purpose acquisition company leaves Joby with more than double that amount on his balance sheet.

Last week, NASA announced it had started flight tests with Joby Aviation’s all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft as part of the agency’s advanced air mobility initiative.

NASA began flight tests with Joby Aviation’s all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft on Monday as part of the agency’s national Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) campaign.

“This is the first time that NASA will test an eVTOL aircraft as part of the campaign. In the future, eVTOL planes could serve as air taxis for those in cities and surrounding areas of the country, adding another mode of transportation to move people and goods, ”the agency said, noting that a key objective is to collect the performance and acoustics of vehicles. data to be used in the modeling and simulation of future airspace concepts.

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Joby is the largest of a group of newcomers, which also includes Volocopter GmbH and Beta Technologies Inc. They face off against Airbus SE, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. by seeking to take advantage of technological advances in batteries to create a more environmentally friendly environment. user-friendly form of urban transport without land traffic. To successfully bring science fiction to life, they must mass-produce the machines, overcome regulatory hurdles, and make the business model work.

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JoeBen Bevirt, the founder and CEO of Joby, expressed his characteristic optimism in a video interview from his home near Joby’s headquarters in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California, surrounded by redwood trees. “We feel really good about the progress,” he said. “Being able to build a clean, zero emissions, quiet aircraft is truly a dream come true and something I can continue to be proud of.”

The rise of PSPCs since last year has allowed a new breed of stocks to list on the world’s most elite stock exchanges. The process allows companies, some with no income, to bypass the scrutiny associated with an initial public offering and raise capital from investors who have signed a blank check. Aerospace companies have been particularly enthusiastic about adopting this model.

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Joby merged with a SPAC called Reinvent Technology Partners, led by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga Inc. co-founder Mark Pincus. The proceeds of the transaction plus cash on the balance sheet as at March 31 were equivalent to approximately US $ 1.6 billion.

In anticipation of the deal, Joby stepped up hiring and now employs more than 800 people. He demonstrated what he calls a final design of the plane to two Bloomberg reporters in June and said he would start manufacturing the vehicles next year. Last month, Joby said he flew over 150 miles on a single charge. The company has worked with the United States Federal Aviation Administration for several years and plans to achieve certification in 2023. As part of this goal, it will begin training pilots to operate the five-seater craft.

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A lot of hype surrounds flying cars. The promise of quiet, fast and emission-free flights is expected to create a $ 120 billion market for urban air mobility by 2030, according to estimates from Honeywell International Inc., which manufactures parts for the new aircraft. By 2040, that could reach $ 1,000 billion, according to Morgan Stanley.

But a regulatory green light is far from certain, said Robin Riedel, a partner at McKinsey & Co. who heads the company’s aerospace practice. The first FAA approval for a new aircraft can be delayed for a year or more, he said. “Every certification is a risk until someone actually does it,” he said. “The devil is in the details.”

Finding places to take off and land is another necessary piece of the puzzle. Joby entered into an agreement this year with Reef Technology Inc., backed by SoftBank, and Neighborhood Property Group to gain access to the roofs of certain parking lots and other buildings in North America and Europe. Joby plans to install helipads and charging stations at these sites.

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Joby and more than a dozen other electric air taxi companies wrote to U.S. House lawmakers last month, calling for the charging infrastructure for their planes to be included in national infrastructure legislation. The House is expected to negotiate an expansion of the bill that was passed by the Senate on Tuesday, although it is unclear what would be added. A spokesperson for Joby said the letter had received a “positive reception” and the company was “delighted” to see the request processed in the coming weeks.

Joby plans to develop a taxi service through partnerships. Uber, which is both an investor and a major partner after selling its own unit of flying cars to Joby at the end of last year, said it will offer Joby’s air service to its customers and provide the ground transportation to Joby’s departure and arrival sites. They plan to start in US cities including Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

Bloomberg News

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In-depth reporting on The Logic’s innovation economy, presented in partnership with the Financial Post.

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