Aviation Executive: Air Taxis Will Drive Workforce Demand

As head of air operations and people at Joby Aviation, Bonny Simi is helping to develop all-electric air taxis for operational use by 2024. (Photo: Embry-Riddle)

Bonny Simi, the head of air operations and people at Joby Aviation, had a clear message for students hoping to succeed in aviation: If it’s your passion, go for it, because the demand will be great. 

In her position at Joby, Simi is a leader on the firm’s all-electric, four-passenger, aerial ride-sharing aircraft, which is due to be operational in 2024. The aircraft is a major contender in the emerging urban air mobility market. 

“The demand for people in this space — as engineers, as pilots, as air operators — is just exploding,” Simi said in a recent Aviation Outlook virtual event. “This is a great time to be in the industry.” 

Simi’s passion for aviation began early, when her mother took her to a local airport to watch small planes taking off and landing. When adventurer John Goddard visited her high school and talked about the list of 127 goals he had made as a 15-year-old, Simi made her own list. On it, among other things, were plans to build a log cabin, go to a good college, be in the Olympics and learn to fly. 

So far, she has not built the log cabin. She did, however, attend Stanford University on a field hockey scholarship, compete in three Olympics competitions in luge and bobsled events, and she not only learned to fly, she became a commercial airline pilot, first for United Airlines and then for Jet Blue. 

Since then, she has worked in nearly all aspects of aviation, helping Jet Blue to implement new operations as the airline rapidly expanded. About five years ago, Simi helped found the technology venture arm of Jet Blue, which invested in Joby. 

She said working in these roles appealed to her because she enjoys “being on the leading edge of innovation.” 

“Electric propulsion is going to transform aviation, just like jet propulsion did in the '60s,” Simi said, referring to Joby’s intention to take people out of traffic jams and into aerial ride-sharing “to save a billion people an hour a day, and to do so sustainably.”  

The electric aircraft developed by Joby performs both vertical and conventional take-offs and landings, giving it access to airports and heliports, Simi said. Because it flies like a regular plane after take-off, its range is greater than many similar aircraft — reaching 150 miles at a top speed of 200 mph. With a maximum noise level of 65 decibels, it is 100 times quieter than a helicopter, Simi said. 

The aircraft will also be piloted, she said, adding that Joby is currently designing pilot-training programs. 

“By definition, the flights occur in an urban area, so you’re not going to be flying Joby aircraft on multi-day trips,” Simi said. “I imagine this as a very attractive opportunity for people who want to stay in one location and be home every night. I think that allows a nice work-life balance.” 

The full April 15 webinar, hosted by the College of Aviation, is available for playback online. For recaps on prior guests, visit the Aviation Outlook website.

Posted In: Aviation