The Lilium electric air taxi, which the German company unveiled in mid-May, can fly 300 kilometers on a single charge. The stakes are huge: American, European, Chinese and Israeli companies are biting their teeth to carve out as much of a slice as possible of a market that is projected to flourish in a decade or two, which could be created by the (newer) urban transport revolution. No wonder it’s worth a test to say the least, Uber also has high hopes for his air taxi project.
Lilium’s five-seater, the Lilium Jet, can fly at 300 km / h, but what’s special about it is the way it switches from vertical take-off to horizontal flight, like a Harrier fighter jet. Then once, because the latest video shows so much that an unmanned, remotely piloted plane takes off like a helicopter, hovers briefly, and then lands. This is also a huge step for Lilium, which is preparing to launch an eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) -based air taxi service in several cities worldwide by 2025. According to the company, on the May 4 test flight, everything happened exactly as planned.
According to Verge, the Lilium Jet also stands out from the air taxi field seen in test videos so far in terms of its futuristic appearance and solutions: its egg-shaped cabin sits on the landing gear, lacking the spectacular rotors of other models, instead being equipped with a total of 36 engines. Due to the tilting actuators, it is possible for the machine to be straightened after taking off in the vertical direction. The machine has no tail, handlebar and propeller.
Remo Gerber, commercial director of the Munich-based company, which employs more than 300 people, says it is enough to mobilize only 10 percent of the 2,000 horsepower at its disposal because of Jet’s fixed-wing design.
Lilium had already successfully flown a similar, only two-seater prototype in 2017, and it was evident that if the company wanted to achieve greater success in urban aviation, it would have to carry at least five passengers. But while the two-seater Lilium Jet was able to switch from vertical to horizontal motion, the increased capacity version didn’t – though the company calls the Lilium Jet an “trademark maneuver”.
In the development of electric aircraft, the ratio of power to weight is always a critical point: the most important factor is how much energy the system can store, and today’s batteries are not able to keep an airplane in the air. Conventional aviation fuel currently provides forty-three times as much energy as a battery of the same mass.
Gerber did not go into details about the capacity of the Lilium Jet, but said the aircraft will be able to take the pilot plus five passengers and their luggage, “and is a leader in the industry in terms of payload ratio”. Lilium, unlike many of its rivals, is not testing an unmanned model because it can be expected to have an easier licensing process. Proceedings have already begun at the European Aviation Safety Agency and a license is being sought in the United States.
The service is planned to be launched on the model of a public transport organization: passengers can book with an application like Uber, and prices will not be much more dangerous: from such a plane in Manhattan you can get to JFK airport in 10 minutes, approx. For $ 70 (a helicopter passenger transport company called Blade currently undertakes this for $ 195).
More than a hundred parallel developments. It may be an exaggeration to talk about a deadly competition, but the fact is that the relatively small Lilium promises to break into a market that promises a very high profit, which is why it is already tentatively crowded with rivals. According to Morgan Stanley, by 2040, the annual revenue of the global air taxi market could reach $ 2.9 trillion, though there is also a more pessimistic scenario that will stop at $ 615 billion. (Facebook’s annual revenue was around $ 15 billion last time.)
Currently, more than 100 companies and workshops are developing electric aircraft for urban transportation on Earth, and competitors include big fish such as Boeing, Airbus, Bell working with Uber, Kitty Hawk and Joby Aviation. But the Slovak AeroMobil, the eloquently named German Carplane GmbH and Volocopter GmbH, the Chinese EHANG, the American Moller International, Samson Motorworks and Terrafugia Corporation, the Dutch PAL-V International B.V. and the Israeli Urban Aeronautics are also among the players.
The market forecast, commissioned by Reuters, already projects a 25 percent annual growth in the segment (in terms of cumulative annual growth rate) until 2023. The main drivers of growth are urban sprawl and the growth of the urban population, its transport safety disadvantages, and the growing demand for environmentally friendly modes of transport. There is an additional reserve for growth, according to the optimistic forecast, in the infrastructural and income development of developing countries, in the changing lifestyle.
However, growth may be slowed by the lack of standards in the development of flying cars and the need to invest heavily in the creation of machine wonders in the beginning. When we talk about flying cars, there are actually two main product types: one for flying cars and the other for passenger drones.
The global market is forecast to be led by North America, thanks to its technological hinterland, manufacturing capacity and stable economy, where investors are already more inclined to invest in building the infrastructure needed for advanced technology. The report puts Europe in second place, where several potential manufacturers are based, and, thirdly, not surprisingly, Asia, where the money available and the population are growing to such an extent that the car market has to soar.