Do Flying Taxi Projected Flight Costs Add Up Or Is It All “Pie In The Sky?”

Last month bloomberg.com pub­lished an opti­mistic arti­cle about Joby Avi­a­tion and its CEO, JoeBen Bevirt, who was on a UK scout­ing mis­sion for future flight routes. Bevirt is quot­ed: “The UK mar­ket is real­ly spec­tac­u­lar. When you come here you can real­ly feel the val­ue of what a ser­vice like ours could mean for peo­ple being able to get around.”

After com­bin­ing Britain’s invest­ment in sus­tain­abil­i­ty with a dense con­cen­tra­tion of large, crowd­ed cities, it is no sur­prise Bevirt is excit­ed about the country’s poten­tial for his pio­neer­ing S4 elec­tric ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing (eVTOL) air­craft.

While eVTOLs should have a major impact over con­gest­ed city cen­tres around the world, flight routes out­side of such urban conur­ba­tions remain a puz­zle. The prob­lem being: cost per mile.

Accord­ing to Joby’s ana­lyst day report from last June, the com­pa­ny esti­mates that in 2026, the trav­el price will be USD3 per mile, based on an aver­age flight length of 24 miles at a cruis­ing speed of 165 mph, car­ry­ing an aver­age load of 2.3 pas­sen­gers and with a six-minute turn­around time.

Matt Field

Joby’s CFO, Matt Field, said: “Over time, the cost of a trip per pas­sen­ger is expect­ed to be on par with an UberX, although we’d expect prices to be clos­er to Uber Black pric­ing in the ear­ly years of ser­vice.”

As to oper­a­tional costs, the com­pa­ny esti­mates the fol­low­ing per avail­able seat mile.

: Pilot 22 cents

: Main­te­nance (includ­ing labour) 19 cents

: Ver­ti­port support/landing fees 11 cents

: Bat­tery and charg­ing 13 cents

: Air­craft and insur­ance 9 cents

: Sun­dries 12 cents

This adds up to a total cost of 86 cents. Then, after opti­misti­cal­ly pre­dict­ing the air­craft will oper­ate sev­en days a week, aver­ag­ing 40 flights per day or 280 a week, Joby esti­mates a rev­enue point of USD1.73 per avail­able seat mile.

Field added: “Our vision is to cre­ate an aer­i­al ride-shar­ing ser­vice that saves a bil­lion peo­ple an hour, but like any new tech­nol­o­gy, our ser­vice will become more afford­able as it scales.” 

The Bloomberg arti­cle high­lights the UKs Cam­bridge to Lon­don city cen­tres as an USD3 per mile exam­ple. Yet, it cites 40 miles as the dis­tance, when 50 is the accept­ed span by air. The cost is not USD120 as stat­ed, but USD150. A major dif­fer­ence.

Cam­bridge to Lon­don: 50 miles

Even when you com­pare the Bloomberg low­er price, the train over this dis­tance is by far and away the cheap­est form of trans­port. The cost, on aver­age, is around UKP27.50 com­pared to the Joby S4 UKP91.

Agreed, the train jour­ney can take up to 1 hour 24 min­utes com­pared with an eVTOL flight of 20 min­utes, but unless you are a city stock­bro­ker or high-pow­ered busi­ness per­son, how impor­tant is that time sav­ing when the cost is over three times more expen­sive? Sure­ly, a major­i­ty of peo­ple vis­it­ing Lon­don from Cam­bridge are for the tourist sites, a shop­ping day out, spe­cial event, or see­ing fam­i­ly and friends. Only wealthy com­muters can reg­u­lar­ly afford to hop on a fly­ing taxi.

Some sug­gest the flight costs moot­ed by Joby and oth­er eVTOL com­pa­nies are “pie in the sky” as there are var­i­ous unknown future vari­ables still to con­sid­er.

For exam­ple, flyingmag.com, in an arti­cle from last Octo­ber points out that the nec­es­sary and exten­sive ver­ti­port infra­struc­ture net­works required may be more expen­sive to con­struct than present­ly pro­posed, dri­ving pas­sen­ger prices up; and why employ­ing exist­ing struc­tures like heli­ports and unused park­ing deck areas become increas­ing­ly impor­tant.

So, how does the Joby per mile price com­pare with its rivals? Quite favourably.

Archer, Ver­ti­cal Aero­space and Eve, for exam­ple, offer poten­tial charges of between USD3 and USD4 with the most expen­sive being NASA at USD6 to USD11 and the cheap­est Lil­i­um at USD2.25.

(Graph­ic by Meg Scar­brough FLYING)

There­fore, a short dis­tance flight over a city cen­tre remains the industry’s pri­ma­ry mar­ket. At USD3 a mile this oblit­er­ates all oth­er com­pe­ti­tion. A two-mile Joby S4 trip over cen­tral Lon­don, for exam­ple, may cost USD6 (UKP4.60) and could take as lit­tle as five min­utes from enter­ing a ver­ti­port to reach­ing the des­ti­na­tion. No con­ges­tion, queue­ing, wait­ing, fumes or cacoph­o­ny of noise… This is ease to please. 

Oth­er modes of city trav­el from the tube and bus, to car and road taxi may now become trans­port antiq­ui­ties. For when you can com­pare or even beat the com­pe­ti­tion price, while offer­ing a major sav­ing of time and then add to this appeal­ing mix­ture, sim­plic­i­ty and com­fort, you’re on to a win­ner. Of course, air reg­u­la­tions and con­cerns over pub­lic safe­ty remain the pri­ma­ry hur­dles for the indus­try to over­come.

Yet, flights between cities are anoth­er mat­ter, where in many cas­es “the train takes the strain,” beats the eVTOL every time on price.

So, when Archer, in a region where there is no train ser­vice, states a 15-mile Mak­er flight from down­town Los Ange­les to San­ta Mon­i­ca may cost USD45-50, “sim­i­lar to an Uber taxi”, enthus­es co-founder Adam Gold­stein, com­pare this price to a 47-minute tram ride at around USD5, where bus or car are only a lit­tle more expen­sive.

Once again, will peo­ple be hap­py to reg­u­lar­ly pay an addi­tion­al USD40+ per trip to reach a des­ti­na­tion in eight min­utes rather than forty? Are longer eVTOL flights sim­ply an elite form of trav­el for only the wealthy?

Archer’s Mak­er

Sure­ly, the USD3 price point must fall to that holy grail of USD1 per mile to allow pro­longed, out of city trips, become more com­pet­i­tive. Yet, how can eVTOL com­pa­nies finan­cial­ly achieve this?

One pos­si­bil­i­ty is con­struct­ing larg­er air­craft to car­ry up to eight pas­sen­gers and not the present four to make them more eco­nom­i­cal. Anoth­er is the free mar­ket.

In the UK, a full-blood­ied “head-to-head” busi­ness bat­tle between JOBY and its emerg­ing arch-rival Ver­ti­cal Aero­space could dri­ve the price down. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, investors would not be hap­py, as returns then dimin­ish and prof­its are squeezed.

There remain impor­tant eVTOL issues to be resolved.

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