Lilium Eyes Launch Electric VTOL Air-Taxi Service Before 2025

AMSTERDAM--On-demand electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air-taxi service Lilium is expecting to launch “much sooner” than its 2025 estimate and is scouting possible downtown locations to start the service.

Munich-based Lilium, which was founded in 2015, is developing a five-seater eVTOL aircraft that will travel at up to 300km per hour, with a range of up to 300km on a single battery charge.

The futuristic aircraft is powered by 36 individual electric ducted fans, embedded into the aircraft’s flaps so that the aircraft can transition between vertical and horizontal flight. A two-seater, full-scale prototype flew in 2017. 

Speaking at Aviation Week's MRO Europe on Oct. 17, Lilium head of product design Frank Stephenson said the aircraft would be able to perform the 19km flight from Manhattan, New York, to JFK airport in five minutes and at an initial cost of $36, compared with a 55-minute taxi journey costing $56-73. The trip cost is expected to drop to $13 in the near term and just $6 in the long term, Stephenson said.

He said the system will be app-based, like Uber, and accessible to everyone. “It’s not a VIP service, it’s not something that’s only open to a small section of the public,” he said. It will be more like an affordable, on-demand taxi service.

“It’s moving forward very quickly. We have said we will be in service in 2025, but that’s probably just to keep the press of our backs, because it’s going to be out much sooner than that,” Stephenson said. “This is going to happen a lot sooner than people expect.”

Lilium is looking around the world for downtown rooftop locations to fly from, targeting big cities with high-density traffic flows. “We are not looking at taking people huge distances,” he said. “We have shown, with a concept aircraft, that we have the payload and flight pattern that we are thinking about, so it does work.”

The noise levels from the aircraft’s electric ducted fans are already “pretty good,” but Stephenson sees scope to make them quieter still. 

The roof-top bases, which will be called Liliports, will have as few passenger checks as possible to create a smooth travel experience. Stephenson said hotel check-in desks could potentially be relocated to the top of the building, as a result of the service.

Passenger and baggage weights will need to be closely monitored, because of payload limitations. Initially an operator will also need to be onboard the aircraft during the flight, to manage any malfunctions and help passengers board and disembark. However, the altitude, velocity and destination will all be pre-programmed before the flight. Stephenson said the aircraft would still fly, even if half of the 36 electric motors failed.

Stephenson joined Lilium from the car industry, where he was design director for Ferrari and Maserati. He worked on the BMW X5, the new Mini, the Ferrari F430, the Maserati MC12 and the McLaren P1. “My last job was as high up as you could be in the car design world,” he said.

His main focus at Lilium is the aircraft’s internal and external design, as well as the company’s wider infrastructure, including landing pads and departure lounges.

Stephenson said the aircraft interior will be like a “comfortable living room,” where passengers can relax, socialize and work. He added that the vehicle will not be subjected to the same dynamics and g-forces as a car, giving more scope for design creativity. Full-sized clay models of the interior and exterior have already been created in Lilium’s internal automotive design station.

He said information about landmarks could be projected onto the aircraft’s windows during flight and--for more adventurous travelers--virtual reality headsets could remove the aircraft completely, giving the sensation of unaided flying.

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