Flying Start

Construction of the Joby plant’s first phase is scheduled to begin this year, pending Marina Planning Commission approval.

Joby Aviation, the Uber-backed flying car startup, is poised to begin construction on a sprawling manufacturing center at the Marina Municipal Airport in the next few months. As many as 1,600 high-paying tech jobs could come to the region. Eventually, an entire new electric aviation industry might be spawning here.

Details of Joby’s plans were publicly disclosed on Jan. 10 when the city of Marina opened a 30-day period for public comment, publishing an environmental review that describes the project.

The new plant would help Joby meet its commitment to Uber to construct electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft by 2023, when the ride-hailing company says it will launch its air taxi service.

Joby already maintains a presence at the Marina airport, leasing two hangers that are used for research and development. Now, the company is proposing to construct a full-fledged factory on the airport’s south tarmac. The build-out would occur in two phases with an ultimate footprint of 580,000 square feet, the size of more than five average Home Depots. The building would have an arched hangar design with the roof extending to a height of 41 feet.

Inside, the plant would allow for “manufacturing, composite fabrication, assemblage of aircraft, parts testing, and research and development,” according to environmental review documents.

Asked for comment, a Joby spokesperon said the company was preparing a detailed statement scheduled for release after the Weekly’s deadline, adding that the company was “excited” to grow its development, production and operations teams in Marina.

On its website, Joby is advertising openings for an architectural drafter/assistant project manager and for a senior construction superintendent. According to the job descriptions, “Joby is in the early stages of setting up facilities and equipment in Marina, California for the high rate production of our vehicle. We intend to mass produce our aircraft in multiple buildings and are putting together a team to design and engineer the industrial facilities from the ground up.”

The selection of Marina is a major accomplishment for the city and the region, which are still recovering economically from the closure of Fort Ord in the 1990s. The first phase of construction is expected to take 15 months.

“Joby Aviation is an exciting startup company that is blazing the path for the future air taxi industry,” Matt Mogensen, Marina assistant city manager, writes via email. “Joby’s desire to produce its unique VTOL vehicle right here in Marina will mean hundreds of new high-tech jobs.”

Asked what Marina offered that made it attractive to Joby, Mogensen points to the city’s “beautiful setting” and proximity to major tech and transportation centers. The company is headquartered in Santa Cruz and has offices on the San Francisco Peninsula.

“The city also has land for development opportunities for new facilities, resources, a welcoming community, educated workforce and quality new and existing neighborhoods for the workforce,” Mogensen writes.

The land underneath the plant is owned by the Marina; City Council approved a lease agreement with Joby on Dec. 17. According to a report by city staff, the deal would generate about $310,000 in rent during the first year. By year 10, if Joby exercises all its development options, annual rent could reach $681,800.

News of Joby’s plan come less than a month after an announcement from Uber that it signed “a commercial partnership to launch a fast, reliable, clean and affordable urban air taxi service in select markets.” Financial terms were not disclosed but the companies did say how the responsibility will be divided up. Joby will build and operate the air taxis, and Uber will be in charge of air traffic control, landing infrastructure and consumer-facing software.

Joby operated quietly from its founding in 2009 until 2018 when the company revealed a $100 million investment from the venture capital arms of Toyota, Intel and JetBlue. The funding allowed Joby to develop a prototype and become the first of dozens of startups developing electric air taxis to agree to Uber’s aggressive launch schedule.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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