ROME – In a market darkened by the oligopoly of giant players, a small aerospace manufacturer makes its debut on the NYSE in a race against time. Its ticker symbol is JOBY, which is also the actual name of the company, headquartered in Santa Cruz, California (Alamalhodaei, 2021).
After being selected to collaborate with NASA on several ground-breaking electric flight projects, Joby now aims to enter Urban Air Mobility. The product currently being tested by the startup is the eVTOL S4, an all-electric aircraft that can take off and land vertically.
Last year the company also agreed to a “G-1” certification basis for its aircraft with the FAA and was granted the first-ever eVTOL airworthiness approval as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program (Joby, 2021).
Undoubtedly the urban model is a new vision of aviation. Today’s airport is designed for the outskirts due to the enormous space required by the aerotropolis, the pollution, and the noise of aircraft engines.
The model most similar to that proposed by Joby is the helicopter, which however wasn’t born for the city, rather as a patrol and rescue vehicle (ie, Sikorsky R-4), especially because it has become unpopular among urban communities due to its noise.
Nevertheless, if earnings will outweigh the operating costs, Joby’s eVTOL is likely to replace light helicopters in the near future. The so-called zero-emission aviation doesn’t equate to zero-cost, bearing in mind that electric aircraft under development generally have lower performance than fuel-powered ones.
Joby is no exception. Its air taxi has a range of 150 nmi (278 km) at a speed of 200 mph (322 km/h) and can carry up to 4 passengers. In comparison, the fuel-powered helicopter Robinson R44, designed in the late 1980s, can travel 300 nmi (556 km) at a maximum speed of 150 mph (240 km/h), carrying up to 3 passengers.
The R44 beats the Joby on the range but loses on capacity and speed. However, if we consider larger helicopters, such as the Bell 429 or Leonardo AW109, both single pilot, the capacity rises to 6-7 passengers, the range is considerably higher than the Joby (270 nmi) and the speed around 300 km/h.
The startup told investors the S4 has 4 times lower operating costs than a helicopter in a 25-mile trip, giving numbers $95 versus $393 per mile (Joby, 2021).
It’s arguable, however, that the aircraft picked for the comparison is the Sikorsky S76, maiden flight in 1977, which has higher operational costs than both Bell 429 and Leonardo AW109, already high! (AircraftCostCalculator, 2021).