From the Floor of CES: Where Should Air Taxis Land? Joby, Overair, and Supernal Take the Stage

where will air taxis landWhere Should Air Taxis Land?

By: Dawn Zoldi

This year air taxis made a bit of a splash at CES® with the presence of Supernals new SA-2 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft sitting in the Diamond Parking Lot of the West Convention Center in a mock vertiport. Add to that a stellar panel focused on three ground-breaking companies (pun intended) – Joby Aviation, Overair and Supernal – discussing the connection between air taxis and communities.

Led by Doug Johnson, Vice President of Emerging Technology Policy for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) who puts on the CES event, the panel consisted of: George Kivork, Joby (Head of US Policy State and Local), Melissa McCaffery, Overair (Director of Policy and Government Affairs) and Diana Cooper, Supernal (Chief Policy Officer). This article highlights key takeaways from their conversation.

 Its Electric!

 All panelists agreed that, in certain respects, shared or plug-and-play charging infrastructure will be key to making the air taxi market soar.

The group plans to take lessons learned from both the electric vehicle (EV) market and apply those to their approaches. For example, several U.S. electric car manufacturers use a combined charging system (CCS) standard (with the exception of Tesla, which developed its own standard). The General Aviation Manufacturers Association endorsed the CCS standard in its 2023 Interoperability of Electric Charging Infrastructure report.

where should air taxis landCooper agreed that charging infrastructure remains crucial. Supernal continues working towards an open access and shared infrastructure. She said, because of airspace integration and noise, we are hoping that many OEMs can share one space including electric chargers.” Supernal wants the industry to coalesce around one standard so all OEMs can have as much charging infrastructure available to them as possible.

 Unlike the other two OEMs, Overair plans to initially operate out of general aviation (GA) airports and then eventually work towards flying in and out of vertiports in local communities. Adding interoperable electric charging stations to existing facilities is consistent with current GA operations, where airlines already share common infrastructure.

 Legislating For Change

 Another commonality among these three very different companies is their joint desire for the laws and regulations that will enable them to launch their business models.

 From certification pathways and airspace management at the FAA-level to a uniform state and local zoning ordinances, the air taxi sector requires, in McCarthys words, an all-of-government” approach. She also highlighted three encouraging developments on the regulatory front at the federal level which occurred in the past year: (1) Congress approved a permanent FAA administrator (2) the FAA Reauthorization currently on the table has an AAM section ands (3) an AAM Caucus formed in the House, led by 2 California-based Congressmen (not coincidentally, the state that all 3 of these OEMs call home).

 While some progress has been made, Kivork noted four areas that he believes still need to be cultivated further: (1) the aircraft certification process (2) government incentivization for aircraft batteries (3) revitalization of the existing and underutilized GA airports in the country and (4) additional collaboration across the board.

Cooper added that a uniform local zoning ordinance for the sector, which is currently lacking, remains at the top of Supernals list. Local governments control the zoning processes critical to industry success.

Early & Often

 Having the tech and the regulations in place is only the beginning of the work that must be done to achieve sector success. Community buy-in is the third leg of the stool, without which, the industry will collapse upon itself.

 McCarthy, who has extensive experience in the GA world, said If we dont have public buy-in, we know historically that things can go very wrong for the industry and for the community.” Early education, not just for the community, but also for elective officials who can act as spokespersons and catalysts for the industry, remains the best approach, in her estimation.

 Speaking from the same playbook, McCarthy said, also needs to occur. That requires a framework with a similar message to be consistent. This past year, NASA produced an AAM community playbook.

 And timing is everything. According to Cooper, who came from the drone space, you can never engage too early with the local community especially if it’s new and some level of automation.”

 Supernal just celebrated its 4-year anniversary and has been engaging the public for several years already. They planned this because they will be going live” in another 4 years, with a 2028 final operating capability.

 Supernal has been doing a variety of things in furtherance of its goals, including working with local governments in cities of interest to partner together to determine local needs, gaps in connectivity and to flesh out potential use cases. Cooper highlighted the companys Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Mayor of Miami.

 Weve been working with Miami for one and a half years, including on STEM and workforce opportunities” to highlight lots of new jobs in aviation that people have not had access to before,” Cooper explained. That Miami MOU has since spurred the kick-off of a local working group involving university and community stakeholders as well as other OEMs.

 Cooper also pointed to Supernals vertiport at CES, and an earlier similar demonstration project at Coventry in the U.K., as other great examples of public engagement.

 Jobys rep lauded Supernals efforts at CES and agreed that seeing is believing.” He highlighted Jobys flight demo from the Wall Street heliport in New York City as a game-changer.

 Its an incredibly quiet aircraft. To see it come to life is key. What that does is changes the dynamic,” Kivork said. Joby eliminated the first 8-10 minutes of helicopter noise on the front and back end of the flight. We took out 20 mins of noise.” People care about that.

 Joby also has an ongoing open house at their flight testing facility out of the San Jose airport, where the public can watch these flights.

 Kivork, like Cooper, also emphasized that his company is bringing jobs to the local community. Joby is in the process of hiring up to 100 positions. Some of these positions are outside the box” in terms of traditional workforce opportunities. For example, Kivork explained, one of the touchiest things is electrical weaving.” Joby hired 40 local seamstresses, whose primary business is designing dresses for quinceaneras, for carbon fiber weaving on the aircraft. The company has also started pilot training by launching a 12-week pilot class. They aim to push 600 pilots through it annually.

 The Future is Almost Here

 Timelines vary for these companies in some respects, but all seem to be targeting the 2028 timeframe for commercial launch. This syncs with the FAAs Innovate-28 plan and the Los Angeles Olympics.

 Overair is excited about the LA 28 Olympics initiative, according to McCarthy. The company is taking steps to align with that event on the certification front. The companys eVTOL called Butterfly,” she said, will be flying this year.” The team just finished the full prototype of this 5 passenger-plus-pilot super quiet aircraft.

 Kivork said that full scale operations for Joby in 2028 would be exciting. He emphasized, however, that the company is already flying today, although not at the scale and volume they intend to do in a few years. Joby conducts daily testing in furtherance of type certification. The company delivered its first aircraft to the Air Force at Edwards AFBthis year.

 Supernal announced at its CES launch of the SA-2 that 2028 will be their big year. Yet theres still quite a bit that needs to be developed at all levels of governments,” Cooper said. For example, the FAAs rule on eVTOL pilot training is still under review. OEMs are still also waiting on the FAA to release an advisory circular (AC) for vertiports. And, of course, local governments may need to revisit their local zoning ordinances.

 Cooper elaborated that the company plans to launch first in the U.S. and then after that, into international markets. She explained that globally, opportunities abound. Europe has created AAM operational rules and a vertiport framework. The U.K. civil aviation authority has a collaborative agreement with the FAA which will allow U.S. OEMs to enter the British market. Her team remains busy encouraging additional collaboration agreements so that it can enter foreign markets in Asia, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and more.

 Theres a lot of discussion about harmonization globally,” McCarthy agreed. All companies plan to watch the Paris Olympics and draw lessons from that to help forge their future plans.

 Overair has been busy doing, not just watching. McCarthy added that Overair had a great year collaborating in Jeju, South Korea. At the end of last year the company entered into a trilateral MOU with the province and Hanwha Systems to initiate the strategic development of public and medical AAM operations on the resort island.

 For its part, Joby has partnerships in Korea and Japan. Toyota is its biggest investors and will be helping the company to scale up in the coming years.

 In the meantime, stay tuned for more from the air taxi world as to where, in reality, these air taxis will land…and fly. Hopefully it will be in places near all of us!

Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the U.S. Air Force. She is the CEO & Founder of P3 Tech Consulting and an internationally recognized expert on uncrewed  aircraft system law and policy. Zoldi contributes to several magazines and hosts popular tech podcasts. Zoldi is also an Adjunct Professor for two universities, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In 2022, she received the Airwards People’s Choice Industry Impactor Award, was recognized as one of the Top Women to Follow on LinkedIn and listed in the eVTOL Insights 2022 PowerBook. For more information, follow her on social media and visit her website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.

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