Charge Of The Flight Brigade


Lots of companies claim to be the Uber for private aviation. But Germany’s Lilium wants to be aviation’s Tesla.

Unless you follow the electric aircraft market closely you may not know much about its vertical take-off Lilium Jet. But in April its two-seater prototype successfully flew in both hover and horizontal flight (there is a short video here). This week it raised $100 million in equity.

The company says that the jet will be able to carry five people and travel at up to 300 km per hour for one hour. It says that short flights will cost the same amount as a taxi and that customers will book flights using an app.

Lilium’s diverse group of investors include China’s Tencent (which owns WeChat); LGT (the family office of the Princely House of Liechtenstein); Atomico (launched by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström), and Obvious Ventures (a private equity firm co-founded by Ev Williams, a former CEO and co-founder of Twitter).

Williams’ involvement is also a great rebuttal to an often repeated quote by Peter Thiel. Thiel – an early investor in Facebook – said: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

Lilium plans to use the money to create a five-seat prototype and add to its 70-person team. Recent hires have joined from Airbus and Tesla.

The odds are that you will be sceptical about electric aircraft. You probably remember the much-hyped light jet revolution (which also attracted high-profile investors). Flying cars have been promised since the 1950s (and in the 1960s by The Jetsons cartoon series). Working in aviation, you also know that an aircraft can only fly when its weight is equalled in regulatory filings. The barriers to entry are extremely high.

But there are a lot of companies targeting this sector. Uber has plans, and a company called AeroMobil is selling a $1 million flying car. There is even a flying motorcycle called the Kitty Hawk. Many existing aircraft manufacturers are also working on their own products.

Electric aircraft will no doubt become a reality – particularly for short flights. But we would all feel more confident about them if our smartphone battery could last longer than a day.

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