Lilium, an electric aviation company based in Germany, said it wants to be the first to sell electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in the US. But it won’t be cheap.
Lilium struck a partnership with a full-service air brokerage and management company, Texas-based EMC Jet, to connect it to the private jet market in the hopes of attracting bigwigs who might be tired of noisy, polluting private jets. And it has secured the first handful of production slots for the aircraft that it will sell to private customers.
But like most private jets, Lilium is going after a premium market that includes corporate executives and others who already own a private aircraft — or two. The company is pricing its Pioneer jets at a cool $10 million, which is almost twice as much as an equivalent gas-powered four-passenger private jet.
“These are folks who already have or utilize private jet service, who are looking for ways to connect potentially from their airport to their office or to their private residence or who have frequent regional transportation needs,” said Matthew Bronfman, head of partnerships and network in Lilium’s US-based office. He added, “it’s a great helicopter replacement.”
A helicopter replacement that can only cover around 110 miles, which is the Lilium Pioneer jet’s operating range. Most helicopters carry enough fuel to cover around 350-400 miles, while private jets can typically travel between 2,000-10,000 nautical miles. In addition, the aircraft sports 30 tilt-rotors and can fly at an elevation of 10,000 feet.
But Lilium isn’t trying to make a one-to-one comparison between its eVTOL aircraft and other gas-powered models. For example, Bronfman cited certain customers who work in cities with congested airspace who will fly to airports closer to their home and then return the empty aircraft back to its airport of origin. Think of it as a last-mile service for private jet owners to get to their private jets.
“This provides a more sustainable and actually more economical way for them to get to their aircraft,” he said.
Think of it as a last-mile service for private jet owners to get to their private jets
Lilium is one of a handful of companies that wants to replace noisy, polluting helicopters and regional aircraft with all-electric, multi-rotor vehicles designed for short hops between nearby airports or quick trips from a dense, urban core to a local airport.
Initially, these aircraft were mislabeled as “flying cars” based on their ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter and then shift to forward flight through the use of electric-powered tilt rotors. Initially, they embraced the “flying car” label, seeking to capitalize on the retro-futuristic appeal that harkens back to old Popular Science and Popular Mechanics covers and engineering eccentricities like the “Moller Car”.
But as they slowly plod through the regulatory process, they have since rallied around new nomenclature, like eVTOL, urban air mobility, advanced air mobility, and air taxis.
Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images
But because we’re dealing with a new type of aircraft altogether, Lilium still isn’t approved to fly in its two main markets of the US and Europe. And until it can get the certification required to get its aircraft off the ground, it needs a more reliable revenue stream — or any revenue at all, really — so it can keep its operations afloat until aviation regulators give it the green light for takeoff.
The company projects it will receive final type and production certification from the FAA and its EU equivalent EASA in 2025 at the earliest. Type certification means the aircraft meets all the FAA’s design and safety standards, while production certification is the approval to begin manufacturing the aircraft.
“I think it is a is a huge step and really something that we ought to be celebrating as an industry: having orders… with payments tied to them being received for eVTOL aircraft,” Bronfman said.
Lilium still isn’t approved to fly in its two main markets of the US and Europe
He disputed the notion that opening up sales on an aircraft that hasn’t received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration would be like putting the cart before the horse. “It’s pretty customary” in the private aviation market, he said, to start taking orders before a model has been cleared for passenger flights.
Since EMC Jet is based in Texas, Lilium says it will focus most of its sales in cities like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. By concentrating sales in one state, Bronfman said Lilium will be better equipped to handle support, maintenance, and repair issues that arise.
It hasn’t exactly been turbulence-free flying for the tiny eVTOL / air taxi industry. A number of startups have gone out of business, most notably Google founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk, which helped kick off the boom in 2017. There have been lawsuits, layoffs, mergers, and no shortage of drama, including a handful of fires and at least one (uncrewed) crash.
That said, Lilium is just one of many companies that claims to have real, honest-to-gosh air taxis flying over cities in the near future. In fact, one just recently passed all of the tests it needed for government approval: China’s EHang.
But Bronfman says Lilium is further along than its rivals, as evidenced by today’s news. “Anyone can announce anything, right?” he said. “We think it’s super important to sell an aircraft.”