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Joby Is Losing Money, but the Milestones Keep Coming

Get an update on Joby, Virgin Galactic, and more in this week's Future of FLYING newsletter.

Hello, and welcome to the Future of FLYING newsletter, our weekly look at the biggest stories in emerging aviation technology. From low-altitude drones to high-flying rockets at the edge of the atmosphere, we’ll take you on a tour of the modern flying world to help you make sense of it all.

—Jack Daleo, Modern FLYING staff writer

Now for this week’s top story:

Checking in with Joby Aviation

(Courtesy: Joby Aviation)

What happened? Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi manufacturer Joby Aviation reported second-quarter 2023 earnings, posting a widening net loss. But the company also reported boatloads of cash on hand and took several key steps toward FAA certification.

The financials: Joby turned in a net loss of $286 million in Q2, more than $236 million higher than the same period in 2022. Adjusted EBITDA also fell about $9 million year over year. That doesn’t inspire much confidence. But at the same time, Joby reported a whopping $1.2 billion in cash and short-term investments on the back of cash infusions from Baillie Gifford and SK Telecom.

The losses hurt, but that liquidity will go a long way. Like other eVTOL makers, Joby does not generate revenue, so it will need all the investment it can get to continue on the path toward certification and entry into service. And it seems that investment is paying off.

Meeting milestones: Q2 was a quarter of milestones for Joby. The biggest was the rollout of its first production-conforming aircraft, which is now on its way to Edwards Air Force Base in California. There, it will conduct test flights for the Air Force. Joby CEO JoeBen Bevirt confirmed on the company’s Q2 earnings call that the eVTOL made its first flight in July.

Joby is also nearing completion of the third of five stages of FAA type certification, having now submitted 100 percent of the certification plans it will use to demonstrate its G-2 means of compliance. Two-thirds of those plans have been approved by the FAA, paving the way for the testing and analysis phase to begin. In addition, the company opened a new headquarters in Santa Cruz.

Quick quote: “Back on our fourth-quarter call, we outlined goals for the first half of 2023,” said Bevirt. “We said we would submit all of our certification plans to the FAA, and we did. We said we would roll out our first production prototype and fly it, and we have. Each of these goals is a huge milestone for Joby and reflects our relentless commitment to execution.”

My take: As far as eVTOL manufacturers go, Joby appears to be in a very good spot. Its losses cannot be ignored. But with no revenue to offset them, they aren’t a great metric for the health of the business.

Right now, that health is determined by Joby’s ability to certify and commercialize its air taxi model. And on that front, things are going swimmingly. With $1.2 billion on hand, a tight relationship with the Air Force, and steady progress on both the testing and paperwork sides of certification, initial flight testing to approve the production model by 2024 seems likely.

Nothing is a sure thing in the untapped electric air taxi industry, and Joby itself has pushed back its launch timeline multiple times. But with certification plans submitted and the production prototype taking flight, the eVTOL took a step closer.

Deep dive: Joby Q2 Net Loss Widens as eVTOL Manufacturer Gears Up for Certification

In Other News…

Virgin Galactic Launches First Space Tourism Flight

(Courtesy: Virgin Galactic)

What happened? After nearly two decades of preparation, Richard Branson’s space tourism venture Virgin Galactic finally sent three paying customers to space on a space tourism flight. The mission, Galactic 02, successfully reached orbit, hovered in zero gravity for a few moments, and descended and glided back to the runway.

Spaceflight firsts: Galactic 02’s passengers, 80-year-old Jon Goodwin and mother-daughter duo Keisha Schahaff and Anastasia Mayers, represented several firsts in spaceflight (and one second).

Goodwin, who competed in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, became the first Olympian and the second person with Parkinson’s disease to reach space. Schahaff and Mayers, meanwhile, were the first Caribbean women and mother-daughter pairing to escape the atmosphere. Mayers, an 18-year-old college student, became the second-youngest astronaut in history.

Deep dive: Virgin Galactic Launches First Space Tourism Flight with Olympian, Mother-Daughter Duo

Battle Creek Executive Airport Secures $7M in Funding for Drone Park

(Courtesy: Duncan Aviation)

What happened? Battle Creek Executive Airport (KBTL), home to an Army base, a university flight school, and several aviation companies, wants to install a 200-acre drone park for the drone, eVTOL, and other advanced air mobility aircraft manufacturing and operations. The project was bolstered by $7 million in state funding awarded to Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU).

Michigan’s Silicon Valley: The project, dubbed MICH-AIR, is planned as an economic and innovation driver for the region, akin to Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. Many drone parks are designed for hobbyists, but BCU hopes to attract large manufacturers seeking business opportunities.

The facility should create hundreds of high-paying jobs and is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to bring drones and other aircraft to the state. The Michigan Department of Transportation is developing a 40-mile air mobility corridor to the north, and companies such as MightyFly and Zipline have signed agreements to fly in the state.

Deep Dive: Drone Park Planned for Battle Creek Executive Airport to Receive $7M in State Funding

And a Few More Headlines:

  • Electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) firm Electra and air taxi marketplace EZ Aerospace each inked Air Force contracts.
  • Private jet and helicopter charter provider Blade Air Mobility reported another quarterly loss.
  • India has barred the country’s military drone makers from using Chinese components.
  • Amazon Prime Air drone delivery reportedly lost its chief pilot and head of flight testing operations as the business struggles.
  • A prototype of Vertical Aerospace’s VX4 eVTOL crashed during a test flight, according to an SEC filing.

Spotlight on…

Samson Sky

[Courtesy: Samson Sky]

I know what you’re thinking—another week, another flying car startup. Just hear me out.

Samson Sky produces the Switchblade, a competitor of Alef Aeronautics’ Model A and Aska’s A5, both of which I’ve highlighted in this spot before. It’s a two-seat, three-wheel, street-legal flying sports car that parks in the owner’s garage, drives on highways, taxis, and takes off at an airport runway, and flies like an airplane. The vehicle is expected to cost $170,000, and Samson Sky just garnered record sales at EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh.

But there’s a catch to Switchblade—you build it yourself. That’s because Samson Sky is certifying it as an experimental kit-built aircraft, which requires the owner to build 51 percent of the vehicle. This is interesting for a few reasons. For one, it skirts a more rigorous FAA certification path, which should allow Switchblade to fly sooner. But it also adds an element of risk to the vehicle since it’s not manufactured on a production line.

However, a Switchblade purchase comes with access to the Samson Builder Assist Program, a team of engineers that works with owners to build their portion of the vehicle. It’ll be interesting to see how much faster—if at all—Samson Sky’s business model can get Switchblade certified.

Deep Dive: Switchblade Flying Car Garners Record-Breaking Sales at Oshkosh

On the Horizon…

For the first time in what feels like forever, there are no new advanced aviation rules or regulations to report. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look out for. 

Keep an eye on the House FAA Reauthorization Bill as the September 30 deadline approaches—the current version includes a few key drone- and AAM-related provisions, but it could be reshaped as lawmakers quibble over the finer details.

Or, if you prefer to take a more active approach to legislation, you can help shape it yourself. The FAA published its proposed MOSAIC framework for light sport aircraft in the Federal Register last month, and it’s now open for comments until October 23.

Mark Your Calendars

Each week, I’ll be running through a list of upcoming industry events. Here are a few conferences to keep an eye on:

Tweet of the Week

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I want to hear your questions, comments, concerns, and criticisms about everything in the modern flying space, whether they’re about a new drone you just bought or the future of space exploration. Reach out to [email protected] or tweet me @jack_daleo with your thoughts.

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