Munich-based start-up Lilium is today set to unveil an electric five-passenger mini-jet that it hopes will be offering commercial ‘air taxi’ services by as soon as 2025. Lilium believes its craft could revolutionise urban travel, cutting the time of a transfer from an airport such as New York’s JFK to downtown Manhattan to less than 10 minutes and at the same cost as taking a taxi over the same distance today.
The start-ups latest air taxi model, which is a development on an earlier beta model, takes off and lands vertically, powered by 36 small, electric engines. Its cruising speed will be up to 300 km/h, meaning that it would also be a potentially effective inter-city transport service, particularly in areas dominated by congested urban sprawl.
The air taxi is controlled from the ground and has already completed a test flight in German airspace. Further testing will go ahead over coming months. While Lilium has no official launch date by when it will be able to offer the mini-jet commercially, chief commercial officer Remo Gerber has said that company believes it will be operating a service in several cities around the world by 2025.
The air taxi market is certainly coming and Lilium does not have the space to itself. Uber also hopes to launch its own electric-powered air taxi service and there are several well-funded U.S. start-ups in the space. Google co-founder Larry Page has invested in several in a strategy of diversifying risk across a new sector he is clearly confident will become a valuable part of the future ‘3D’ urban transport mix.
Morgan Stanley analysts last year put the projected air taxi market’s value at an annual $1.5 trillion by 2040. The investment bank supposes around $851 billion of that will come from passenger transport and the rest deliveries. Consultancy Roland Berger has also published a study that predicts that air taxis will be relatively common by 2030 and already in limited use by 2025.
Traditional aerospace engineering companies are also in the mix. Boeing and Airbus are both investing in hybrid electric propulsion systems for small aircraft and Rolls-Royce last year publicised its own plans for an electric aircraft with rotating wings designed for vertical take-off and landing.
As with electric driverless vehicles, the fledgling industry’s biggest challenges will be gaining public trust, building necessary infrastructure and gaining regulatory approval. However, while Lilium’s test model is controlled from the ground for safety reasons, the company plans for future commercial services to be piloted. This should mean major changes to current regulations would not be necessary and Mr Gerber believes that flight corridors for air taxis will simply be established. The other big step Lilium and its competitors in the air taxi space will have to make will be making the cost of their service competitive and accessible to a mass market.