“What sounds like science fiction today may soon become reality.” That is what transport minister Hendrik Wüst of the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia said last week while announcing a partnership between the company Lilium and the airports of Düsseldorf and Cologne/Bonn.
It does not appear to be an exaggerated statement. Because if the new partners’ plans do become reality, then electric taxis will be flying from 2025 onwards. And they will do that between those airports and several major cities in the region. Most likely Münster, Dortmund, Bielefeld, Aachen, and Siegen, among others. According to the Lilium’s Operations Manager, Remo Gerber, these will be emission-free flights with travel times of less than 30 minutes. And at affordable prices.
Electric jet fighter
Lilium has been developing its flying taxi for five years now. It is a kind of electric mini jet fighter that is designed to take off and land vertically. The flying machine has room for one pilot and four passengers. Gerber thinks it will be possible to use existing infrastructure such as heliports and roofs of buildings for the take-off and landing of the “Lilium Jet.”
The first test flights were, in their own words, successful. Although as yet, no live footage of a test was ever shown. Only after the event. The Munich-based company is now working on a factory where the flying car will be made ready for series prouction. It should have a range of 300 kilometers and a maximum speed of 300 km/h.
Critics as well as fans
Gerber joined the company at a later stage after it was set up by four students from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. These are Daniel Wiegand (chair of the board), Sebastian Born, Matthias Meiner and Patrick Nathen.
Over the past few years, German aviation experts have regularly expressed skepticism about their plans. Vertical take-offs and landings in particular are viewed critically. A fire involving one of the models in a hangar earlier this year was seen as the writing on the wall.
Fans and rivals
But they also have several high-profile fans. For example, a few weeks ago the company received huge praise from Tom Enders. He’s the former boss of the Airbus aviation company. “Thanks to fresh ideas from these kinds of brave young entrepreneurs, aviation can continue to progress further,” he said in an interview with the German Sunday newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag.
Enders points out that an extremely positive element is the close cooperation that exists with the European Aviation Authority EASA together with the professional business plan. According to him, the main obstacle is the fierce competition out there, because Lilium is not the only one who is building flying taxis.
For instance, Toyota is investing heavily in the company Joby Aviation from Silicon Valley. While Uber and South Korean Hyundai are working on a joint taxi-drone. The U.S. business bank Morgan Stanley wrote earlier this year that it expects flying taxis to reach maturity within the next ten years. The bank is forecasting a market that will approach US$1500 billion by 2040.
Tencent is one of the investors
Lilium does not have to do everything on its own. Founded in 2015, the company has so far received €375 million from a group of investors. These include well-known names such as the Chinese company Tencent, Baillie Gifford and Atomico. Lilium currently has 500 employees.
Gerber refers to North Rhine-Westphalia and the two airports as ideal partners for this ambitious futuristic project. “We are grateful for the support of both the government ministry and our partners at the airports in making our dream come true.”
18 million residents
With a population of 18 million residents, North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most densely populated federal state. The Ruhr District in North Rhine-Westphalia (almost 6 million inhabitants) is one of the largest metropolitan regions in the European Union, alongside London and Paris. With 25 million passengers a year, Düsseldorf is Germany’s third-largest airport after Frankfurt am Main and Munich.