It's only a matter of time before fully operational air taxis take to the skies as numerous startups power ahead with plans to provide high-speed public transport with electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles.
One such example, California-based Joby Aero Inc., announced on Tuesday, July 27, that it has flown a full-sized prototype air taxi more than 150 miles (241 km) on a single charge.
Fast emission-free flight
The flight took place at Joby’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California earlier this month. It was one of several flight tests conducted in recent times by the startup, which aims to provide efficient emission-free transportation. Joby's aircraft was piloted from the ground by test pilot Justin Paines (shown in footage below), who completed 11 laps of a predetermined route. The total flight time for Joby's eVTOL aircraft was 1 hour and 17 minutes, after which the craft landed vertically, having covered exactly 154.6 miles (248.8 km) in the process.
The aircraft used commercially available lithium-ion batteries, modified slightly for flight. An 811 NMC cathode and a graphite anode cell were used to manage the power demands of takeoff and landing. During lab tests, the Joby team found that their selected components had a cycle life of more than 10,000 nominal flights, meaning the batteries are more than suited for the demands of eVTOL passenger flight. "We've achieved something that many thought impossible with today’s battery technology," said Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt. "By doing so we've taken the first step towards making convenient, emissions-free air travel between places like San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, Houston and Austin, or Los Angeles and San Diego an everyday reality."
2024 could be the year of the flying taxi
In order to take its ambitions to the skies, Joby Aviation is able to draw from some of the industry's leading experts, including its own powertrain and electronics lead, Jon Wagner, who was previously the head of battery engineering at Tesla. In Joby's announcement, Wagner stated that "with the right cell chemistry and a lot of hard work across the entire engineering team, we've been able to create a remarkably efficient aircraft that can make the most of today’s commercially available batteries."
Though Joby's team says that plenty more flight tests are planned for the coming months, they believe their latest flight is the longest all-electric eVTOL flight performed to date — an important achievement that shows how close they are to their goal of providing efficient air taxi services. The company is working hard to certify its aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration and it hopes to start commercial passenger services as early as 2024, flying a pilot and four passengers at speeds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h).
Joby's latest milestone is yet another step towards the widespread deployment of flying taxi technologies. It joins a list of other eVTOL firms that are close to going commercial, such as Volocopter, which aims to start its air taxi services in Paris and Singapore by 2024, and Lilium, which recently unveiled a new design for a 7-seater flying taxi with a view to also going commercial by 2024. All going to plan, 2024 looks set to be the year that intracity public transport finally takes flight.