That five-minute air-taxi ride from Times Square to JFK Airport you’ve fantasized about while inching along the Grand Central Pkwy has become $90 million closer to reality. Lilium, the Munich, Germany-based aviation startup that conducted a successful test flight with a two-seat “flying car” in April, this morning announced that it has closed a $90 million series B round of funding.
“Lilium is setting out to create a world ‘in which everyone can fly anywhere, anytime’ by building compact all-electric jets that take off and land vertically. This would effectively bypass expensive, space-consuming runways and would position the company to fulfill its mission of bringing Uber-style air taxis to market within a decade,” writes Paul Sawers for VentureBeat.
The investors are Chinese tech group Tencent; LGT, the international private banking and asset management group; Atomico, a Series A backer founded by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström and Obvious Ventures, whose co-founder Ev Williams is Twitter’s co-founder and former CEO, according to the release announcing the funding. Lilium has raised more than $100 million overall, it says.
The company “will use its fresh investment to grow its team beyond its current headcount of 70 and build a five-seater vehicle called the Lilium Jet,” reports David Meyer for Fortune.
Although the April test of the smaller electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle only lasted a few minutes, chief commercial officer Remo Gerber “says the finished product will be able to fly for a full hour on a single charge, at speeds of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour. This would mean a five-minute journey between Manhattan and JFK Airport, for example,” Meyer writes.
“That is all on current battery technology,” Gerber tells him. “We obviously believe batteries are going to get better.”
Lilium is not alone in exploring the potentially lucrative air space, but it’s different.
“Lilium is among several companies looking to usher in an era of Jetsons-type flying cars, including those backed by the Google co-founder Larry Page, Uber and Airbus. But the two-year-old company is trying to stand out by focusing on an electric jet — unlike other models that effectively function more like hovercraft,” writes Michael de la Merced for the New York Times.
“The design, by the four graduates of the Technical University of Munich who founded Lilium, is meant to be more energy efficient than competitors’ models. As the start-up demonstrated with its Eagle in April, Lilium’s vehicle is designed to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter,” de la Merced continues.
“We think our technology could be rapidly adopted in urban areas or between cities — all you need is a landing pad. We’re looking for partners who can operate it, at a cost similar to train transport or taxi for passengers,” CCO Gerber tellsBloomberg’s Marie Mawad.
“While aerospace companies and start-ups are enthusiastic about the potential for urban air transport to take off as increasingly congested cities pose problems for both the environment and productivity, questions over their regulation remain,” points out Peggy Hollinger for Financial Times.
“[Gerber] believes these hurdles will be easily overcome. The company is developing its electrically powered aircraft to accord, initially, with existing regulations, and it would have a pilot in the first stages, he said. As for infrastructure, Lilium would be ‘working with cities, villages and communities to determine what might be required.’”
“Different concepts will be needed,” Gerber says. “You could imagine 5, 10, 50 different landing spots across a city, for example.”
A generational change in mindset might also be needed to keep the costs of operating them truly competitive — i.e., not reliant on human pilots.
“Pilotless flight might be in our future, but according to a new study by Swiss bank UBS, consumers are not quite ready to embrace it,” The Verge’s Dani Deahl reported last month.
“Out of the 8,000 people surveyed for the report, more than half said they were unwilling to travel in a pilotless plane, even if the price was cheaper. Overall, only 17% said they would be likely to take an uncrewed flight, but that percentage rose to 27% when reducing the sample size to those aged 18–24, and 31% with those aged 25–34.”
German and French respondents were wariest of the prospect — only 13% said they’d fly with no pilot. The most adventuresome? Twenty-seven percent of respondents in the U.S. Ah, but who will serve the salty snacks and 90-proof drinks?