The new Orlando-area Lake Nona development is set to be the site of the first vertiport in a planned air mobility network for Florida. In a November 11 announcement, German eVTOL aircraft manufacturer Lilium said it will partner with Tavistock Development Company and the city of Orlando to build a vertiport at the heart of the new residential community as part of the wider Aerotropolis business park, which is adjacent to Orlando International Airport.
According to Lilium, the Lake Nona vertiport will be the first hub for a network that will provide flight connections for more than 20 million Floridians living within a radius of 185 miles. The company says its five-seat, all-electric Lilium Jet eVTOL will be ready to begin commercial operations in 2025. The company is working towards type certification on both sides of the Atlantic under EASA and FAA Part 23 rules by the end of 2024.
Tavistock’s plans for the Lake Nona community call for between 20,000 and 30,000 new homes. The adjoining Aerotropolis zone includes existing business aviation operations, such as the headquarters for the BBA Aviation/Signature Flight Support FBO group and SimCom Aviation Training, which is due to be expanded to have the capacity to train approximately 10,000 pilots each year.
According to Lilium chief operating officer Remo Gerber, the company will offer flights that can be booked via its app, providing connections to other Florida cities such potentially Tampa (85 miles) and West Palm Beach (160 miles). The Lilium Jet will cruise at speeds of up to 185 mph, providing quick connections to multiple locations on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.
Gerber told FutureFlight that Lilium has no interest in providing short-range air taxi services within cities and believes that eVTOL aircraft will be far more viable as part of longer-range networks with sectors of 20 miles or more. He said that the company’s goal is to work with multiple partners to develop “ecosystems” consisting of multiple routes.
“We are thrilled to partner with Tavistock and build the first stretch of Florida’s high-speed electric transportation network with Central Florida at its core,” commented Gerber. “It shows that regional high-speed air mobility can be built by private initiative and give communities such as Lake Nona, which can also serve Orlando and arrivals from its international airport, the ability to determine whether they want a link into a high-speed transportation network.”
The footprint for each of the planned vertiports will be almost 60,000 square feet and Gerber explained that these could be part of a parking garage for cars. He estimated the cost of building new structures at around $10 million and said that each facility will have an annual throughput of more than one million passengers.
The Lake Nona vertiport will have two landing pads and eight departure gates. It will be located just under three miles from the Orlando International Airport's intermodal transport hub.
“Lilium has been working on a lean, modular design that will help make vertiports accessible to developers large and small,” the company told FutureFlight. “Whether they are placing a vertiport at an existing transport terminal, next to a shopping center, or on top of a busy car park, Lilium wanted to make it easy and affordable for developers to design and build a suitable vertiport.”
Central Florida has long had an inadequate public transportation system and growing road traffic congestion, making it an ideal environment for launching new air mobility services, according to Lilium. “Over time we will make these flights competitive with driving private cars,” said Gerber. Around two million people now live in the Orlando area.
On November 9, Orlando City Council approved tax rebates worth $831,250 over 9 years for Lilium. It estimates that the new operation at Lake Nona will have a $1.7 million economic impact over 10 years and will create around 140 jobs.
Lilium and Tavistock claim their plans will make Florida the site for “the first advanced aerial mobility region in the U.S.” In fact, ride-hailing giant Uber is still planning to have initial operations of its planned air taxi networks operating in Dallas and/or Los Angeles by the end of 2023. However, these services would be relatively short-range by comparison with what Lilium has in mind.
Tavistock indicated during a press conference on November 11 that it intends to be involved in plans to establish other vertiports across Florida. Gerber indicated that Tampa, Jacksonsville, and Fort Lauderdale are all being considered as possible future vertiport locations.