German eVTOL aircraft developer Lilium is working with the country’s Dusseldorf and Cologne/Bonn airports to explore plans to establish an air mobility network for the North Rhine-Westphalia region. The Munich-based startup says that its all-electric, five-seat Lilium Jet will be ready to enter service in 2025, providing flights of up to around 300 km (186 miles).
The partnership was announced on September 7 with the support of North Rhine-Westphalia’s transportation minister, Hendrik Wust. The state is the most densely populated in Germany with 18 million inhabitants and 10 cities with more than 300,000 residents within a 200 km radius. It is also home to more than 40 universities and colleges, as well as around 30 percent of the largest companies in Germany and four international trade fair venues.
According to Lilium’s chief operating officer, Dr. Remo Gerber, the company’s intention is to develop vertiports on the landside of the airports to provide an easy connection with other modes of transportation. These would be large enough to support the high throughput of passengers anticipated for Lilium’s planned scheduled services and positioned to avoid any airspace conflicts with existing runways.
The vertiports would consist of a landing area and a set of parking gates for passengers to board and disembark from the aircraft. The gates would have recharging systems for the aircraft, which will require around a 10-minute charge for each 100 km flown.
Lilium estimates that it could cost around €10 million ($11.8 million) to build each of the large vertiport complexes and that an annual throughput of between 500,000 and 1.5 million passengers would ensure a commercial return on this investment.
Gerber explained to FutureFlight that Lilium intends to develop a branded network of scheduled flights, rather than the on-demand air taxi model envisaged by some other eVTOL aircraft developers. He added that the company remains open to the possibility of partnering with some existing aircraft operators and service providers as this business model is scaled up.
“We see our services as more like the scheduled train services with seats booked via our app,” said Gerber. “We believe that this approach means we will be able to keep up load factors and offer competitively priced trips.”
Lilium is now building a second technology demonstrator aircraft to replace the first model, which was destroyed by fire during maintenance work on February 27. Gerber said the new aircraft will incorporate improvements resulting from an initial round of test flights. Acknowledging that disruption resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has somewhat slowed construction work, he said that the company is not publishing a projected date for test flights to resume. However, he stressed that Lilium’s large engineering team is making solid progress with other type certification tasks in accordance with the means of compliance guidelines proposed by the European Aviation Safety Agency. The agency intends to publish further certification guidance materials for eVTOL aircraft in November 2020.
As of June 2020, the company, which was formed in 2015, had raised $375 million, most of which came from a $275 million funding round completed in March. The Lilium workforce now stands at 500 people and most of these are engaged in engineering work.
Lilium’s aim is to connect its planned network to the existing air, rail, and road hubs around Dusseldorf and Cologne/Bonn airports. “Cities such as Aachen, Bielefeld, Munster, and Siegen will directly connect to the region’s largest international airports within 30 minutes, providing emission-free, high-speed connectivity at an affordable price,” said Gerber.
According to Gerber, the air mobility network concept it is developing in Germany can be adapted to almost any other region of the world. The company has drawn up plans for networks in other parts of Europe and also the U.S.