Jet-powered flying taxi unveiled following first flight

Lilium's five-seat aircraft will have a 300km range, and can operate with a pilot or in drone mode. It will be five times faster than a car and less noisy than a motorbike.
Lilium's five-seat aircraft will have a 300km range, and can operate with a pilot or in drone mode. It will be five times faster than a car and less noisy than a motorbike. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The world's first all-electric vertical take-off and landing passenger jet has been unveiled after completing its first flight.

German start-up Lilium aims to have a fleet of the five-seat aircraft - which can operate with a pilot or in drone mode - flying in cities worldwide by 2025, providing a pay-per-ride service that will be emission-free, five times faster than a car and produce less noise than a motorbike.

Lilium has US$100 million (S$137 million) in funds and must raise at least the same amount again to bring the model to market, while adding hundreds more jobs to its payroll of 300 people, chief executive officer Daniel Wiegand told Bloomberg TV.

The plane will have a 300km range, allowing it to link New York and Boston. A short hop between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Manhattan will cost about US$70 per passenger, making it cheaper than a helicopter and competitive with top-end limousine services, chief commercial officer Remo Gerber said in an interview.

A full-scale, full-weight prototype made its debut flight from Lilium's base near Munich on May 4 and has commenced flight tests, the company said on Thursday (May 16).

The craft is powered by 36 jet engines that swivel after take-off to provide forward flight in the manner of a standard plane, using 10 per cent of the energy of multi-rotor drones based on helicopter technology. That saving, in turn, allows it to fly for 10 times the distance, overcoming the range issues regarded as a major obstacle to electric-powered planes.

Besides having jets instead of propellers, the model has no tail, no rudder, no gearbox and only one moving part in the engine. That makes the design safer, the company said.

 
 
 

STAYING INDEPENDENT

Mr Wiegand said he has had interest from cities worldwide, and would like to initially deploy Lilium's aircraft in two or three locations, each with about 20 planes - enough to make the individual operations profitable. The plan is to remain independent rather than seek a buyer, he said, with the company making its own engines, batteries and composite structures.

Lilium has begun seeking approval from European and United States regulators, making the model the first electric jet in history to enter certification.

There are more than 100 different electric-aircraft programmes in development worldwide, according to Roland Berger consultancy, with Lilium's biggest competitors including Joby Aviation and Kitty Hawk, whose models are electric rotor rather than jet powered, as well as planned offerings from Airbus, Boeing and Bell Helicopter, partnered with Uber Technologies.