The world’s first all-electric vertical takeoff passenger jet could start operations from boutique hubs across Florida in coming years.
German startup Lilium GmbH has struck a deal to build a network of at least 10 so-called vertiports with Spanish infrastructure giant Ferrovial SE, the companies said on Wednesday. Ferrovial owns 25% of London’s Heathrow Airport and manages three other terminals in the UK.
Lilium, which is developing a five-seat air taxi, will serve Florida’s major population centers, including Miami and Tampa. The timing of the first flights, in the southern part of the state, could be announced as soon as this spring, Ferrovial said in a statement. The companies will collaborate on the design, construction and operation of the airports and charging facilities. Lilium aims to be running flights in cities worldwide by 2025.
The company says the pay-per-ride services will be emission-free, five times faster than a car, and produce less noise than a motorbike. The aircraft’s battery will have a 300-kilometer (186-mile) range; it can operate with a pilot or in drone mode. A first test flight took place in May 2019. Once the service is up and running, Lilium expects a short connection between, say, John F. Kennedy International Airport, in Queens, NY, and Manhattan would cost about the same as a top-end limousine service.
The aircraft, powered by 36 jet engines that swivel after takeoff to provide forward flight in the manner of a standard plane, uses 10% of the energy of multi-rotor drones used in helicopter technology. The savings should allow the craft to fly longer distances, overcoming some of the range issues that are seen as a major obstacle to electric-powered planes. The model has no tail, no rudder, no gearbox and only one moving part in the engine, features, Lilium says, that make the craft safer.
Based near Munich, the company has similar deals with airports in Orlando, Florida, and in Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bonn in Germany. In early January, it appointed former Airbus SE chief Tom Enders to its board. The company became a unicorn — a startup valued at more than $1 billion — after raising $275 million last year from investors including Tencent Holdings Ltd., Atomico and later Baillie Gifford & Co.