Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) is making a big bet on eVTOL startup Joby (NYSE: JOBY). The Atlanta-based airline announced this morning that it had made a $60 million upfront equity investment in Joby—roughly 2 percent of the company—to help establish an ‘a multi-year, multi-market commercial and operational partnership’ between the two.
If things go well as the service rolls out, Delta said the total investment could expand up to $200 million.
“We’ve found in Joby a partner that shares our pioneering spirit and commitment to delivering innovative, seamless experiences that are better for our customers, their journeys, and our world,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement.
Beginning in New York and Los Angeles, Delta and Joby plan to integrate Joby’s services as a premium shuttle service to and from airports where Delta operates. This will run alongside Joby’s planned airport services, making the partnership mutually exclusive in the U.S. and the U.K. for half a decade after Joby’s commercial launch.
We’ve partnered with @Delta – the world's leading airline – to deliver a seamless, differentiated experience for Delta customers traveling to and from the airport, alongside our standard airport service. [1/2] pic.twitter.com/5g1WKnY0tX— Joby Aviation (@jobyaviation) October 11, 2022
Joby’s pre-production prototype is propelled by six tilt-rotors and battery-powered electric motors. It’s designed to carry a pilot and four passengers at speeds of up to 200 mph (174 kts), with a maximum range of 150 sm on a single charge.
Joby says the aircraft has flown more than 1,000 test flights, and that it was the first eVTOL company to be granted a G-1 (Stage 4) Certification Basis for its aircraft by the FAA. More recently, Joby has already received its Part 135 certification from the FAA, based on traditional, piloted aircraft for the short term.
Joby Founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt said Joby shares “Delta’s unwavering commitment to delivering seamless and sustainable journeys to customers” and looked forward to working together.
Analysts Push Back on Joby’s Plan
The partnership with Delta is a significant win for Joby, which became a publicly traded company in 2021 by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, like some of its competitors, Lilium (NASDAQ: LILM), Archer (NYSE: ACHR), Vertical Aerospace (NYSE: EVTL), and Eve (NYSE: EVEX). Since then, as a broad trend, many companies listed on the stock market using the SPAC format have underperformed for various reasons.
In Joby’s case, a scathing report from a prominent hedge fund, Bleecker Street Capital, claimed that the eVTOL company’s plan to gain FAA certification by 2024 and immediately begin commercial services is “so grandiose it is hard to fathom.”
“With no revenue, one prototype plane, and promises of the future, Joby has some of the most egregious guidance of any SPAC we have seen,” the hedge fund pushed back, which also said Joby used these projections to secure partnerships with companies like Toyota and Uber.
Delta, FAA Vertiports, and Industry Officials Help Joby’s Case
With Delta coming on board, Joby may have been able to shift the narrative. In late September, the FAA also released new design guidelines for vertiports, the infrastructure that will support advanced air mobility (AAM) aircraft.
“Our country is stepping into a new era of aviation,” said associate administrator for airports Shannetta Griffin. “These vertiport design standards provide the foundation needed to begin safely building infrastructure in this new era.”
Separately, in that same week, a group of aviation business leaders testified before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation, in which the group provided the lawmakers with critical updates about the progress of introducing new technologies into the national airspace system.
At the time, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen outlined the business aviation case for advanced air mobility. Bolen urged the FAA to do all it could not to hinder the certificate process but to ensure the eVTOL makers could meet their 2024 deadlines.
As for Delta, Bastian said, “This is a groundbreaking opportunity for Delta to deliver a time-saving, uniquely premium home-to-airport solution for customers in key markets we’ve been investing and innovating in for many years.”