Flying Taxi Company Joby Aviation Goes Public While Touting Itself as ‘Uber of the Air’

Flying Taxi Company Joby Aviation Goes Public While Touting Itself as ‘Uber of the Air’
Footage from a promotional video released by Joby Aviation in August 2021. (Gif: Joby Aviation/YouTube)

Joby Aviation made its debut Wednesday as a publicly trade company on the New York Stock Exchange surging over 25% after opening at a price of $US10.62 ($14). Joby is currently promising air taxi service for the public by 2024, an ambitious plan for its electric vertical-take-off and landing vehicles, known as eVTOL.

What makes Joby’s air taxis better than traditional helicopters? They’re electric and they’re quieter. Otherwise, they accomplish the exact same thing as a helicopter that might carry four passengers and one pilot. How will Joby turn that into a viable business? Presumably, by targeting the wealthy with the promise of fast, TSA-free trips of 241 km or less.

Joby went public on Wednesday by merging with a so-called blank check company called Reinvent Technology Partners, led by the cofounder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman. The merger is what’s called an SPAC deal, which allows companies to get listed on the stock exchange quickly and with less financial scrutiny than a traditional IPO.

The California-based company’s eVTOLs have a range of over 241 km, according to the Joby Aviation website, and can fly at a top speed of 322 km per hour. And one of the main selling points is that users will be able to book their trips via an app. In fact, Joby is trying to sell itself as the Uber of air travel, even using the term “ridesharing” in its press release.

“With its advanced technology, we believe Joby is ‘Tesla meets Uber in the air’ and the clear leader in the eVTOL and aerial ridesharing space,” Hoffman said in a statement.

The problem, of course, is that Uber adopted the term “ridesharing” because its drivers use their own cars and are “sharing” a ride with a stranger. Joby’s business model isn’t based on pilots “sharing” a ride with anyone. They’re pilots hired to do a job with aircraft they don’t own. Or, at least they will be doing that when they eventually start operations.

While some news outlets, like Bloomberg News, refer to Joby’s vehicles as “flying cars,” they’re not flying cars at all. Flying cars, a promise of the future for over a century, are vehicles that can both be driven on roads and fly through the air. Joby isn’t bothering with anything that drives on the ground. These electric vehicles are for the air exclusively.

And it’s that air-only dream that will likely mean Joby has an easier job getting off the ground. But easier isn’t the same thing as easy. Joby still needs to get certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, something that could take years. Joby, for its part, says to expect air worthiness certification by 2022.

Curiously, it looks like Joby wants to get into a side business of green-washing with something like carbon credits, based on a report from CNBC:

While the company’s primary revenue will come from operating air taxis, it’s also figuring out how to generate and sell environmental regulatory credits to other aviation businesses that will need to offset their carbon emissions.

It sounds a bit like Elon Musk’s Tesla getting into bitcoin. The electric car side of Musk’s business may be losing money, but that fake digital currency has exploded in price since Tesla bought $US1.5 ($2) billion worth of it.

And if Joby’s marketing push as the next Uber doesn’t put it over the top, the company is going to be leaning hard into the environmentalist angle.

“Aviation connects the world in critically important ways but today it does that at the expense of our planet,” JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO at Joby, said in a press release.

“By taking Joby public we have the opportunity to drive a renaissance in aviation, making emissions-free flight a part of everyday life. This is our generation’s moonshot moment, and at Joby we’re proud to be leaning in.”

Does an electric fleet of helicopters sound neat? It sure does. Will the company find enough customers for what will presumably be a rather expensive air taxi ride? We’ll find out in the next couple of years.