Germany’s Lilium Surges to the Forefront of the Drone Taxi Market

A handful of small start-ups in the United States, Europe and China are in the forefront of the burgeoning global drone taxi market.  But Germany-based Lilium, developer of the first eVTOL fixed wing passenger jet, has recently moved to the head of the pack.

Thus far, Lilium is the only drone taxi firm to receive dual certification from the FAA and the EASA to fly in both U.S. and European airspace, giving the world’s leading investors all the more reasons to back the company and its incipient assembly operation near its home base in Munich.

The company’s first eVTOL jets are scheduled to be fully operational by early 2026, but new partnerships and governmental support obtained in recent weeks could expedite that timetable, putting Lilium even further ahead of its leading rivals.

First, the company was just invited by UrbanLink, a new commercial airline owned by business mogul Ed Wegel, to become part of the company’s expanding airport presence across South Florida.  In the past, Wegel has raised more than $1 billion for new aviation ventures, including the development of Jet Blue’s initial business plan.  He recently served as CEO & Founder of GlobalX, America’s fastest-growing charter airline.  He’s also served as a board member for Atlantic Coast Airlines, BWIA International Airlines, and Eastern Airlines.

As part of the new agreement with Lilium, UrbanLink has agreed to purchase 20 of the company’s cutting-edge taxi jets, with scheduled pre-delivery payments.  While other drone taxi companies like Joby and Archer are signing deals with major commercial airlines like Delta, the new deal with Lilium makes UrbanLink the first airline in the U.S. fully committed to the integration of eVTOL aircraft into an active fleet.

The new deal also involves a close partnership between Lilium and UrbanLink in the expansion of the vertiport system that Lilium began building in South Florida five years ago,  The vertiports are intended to allow for drone taxi travel not just within a specific city but also between cities in the same region.  It’s the first and most extensive drone passenger travel network of its kind.

With vertiports in place, Lilium and Urban Link can support air taxi transportation  between Miami, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Fort Lauderdale, and even across the Florida peninsula to Marco Island, marking a huge step forward in the development of new urban – and regional – air mobility systems.

Commenting on the new deal, Sebastien Borel, Lilium’s Chief Commercial Officer, noted:  “We believe that this purchase of eVTOL aircraft is the first by a commercial operator that isn’t invested in the manufacturer that it is purchasing from. This is a sign that the market for eVTOL aircraft has matured and there is growing demand for aircraft that can provide connections between, rather than just within, cities.  This is a huge milestone, not only for Lilium, but for the commercialization of eVTOLs in the U.S.”

UrbanLink’s Wegel said a key factor in choosing Lilium over its rivals was the German company’s unique eVTOL design and operational capabilities.  The new jet aircraft can fly for 190 miles, making it ideal for long-distance regional travel. It’s also configured to carry six passengers, while other drone taxi prototypes have space for just four, or even two.

“We are dedicated to revolutionizing the way people move to and from as well as within urban cores.  After thorough evaluation of various manufacturers, we found the Lilium Jet to be the optimal choice for our needs, thanks to its superior cabin design, range, capacity, and cost-effectiveness,” Wegel said.

Lilium’s position in the European passenger drone market is also about to surge.  Last week, the company entered into discussion with the French government to arrange for public subsidies and loan guarantees to expand Lilium’s high-volume production capacity inside France.

Assembly of the first Lilium jet began in 2023 at the company’s factory outside Munich.  But addition of at least two new production plants in France – purportedly in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region – marks a significant expansion of the company’s commercialization plan.

Lilium isn’t going it alone.  Its partner in the new effort is the Switzerland-based nickel refinery company KL1.  Lilium is expected to invest $434 million in a new factory that will create 850 new jobs. KL1’s own site, in Blanquefort, near Bordeaux, calls for an investment of $325 million, allowing for 200 new jobs.

That brings the total combined investment to a whopping $759 million, with over a thousand new jobs expected.

France appears to be betting big on the new deal with Lilium.  French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to kick off the country’s annual “Choose France” business summit, aimed at attracting foreign investments into the country, with a special focus on the development of leading edge technologies.

“Choose France brings in capital, Choose France brings in new technologies, Choose France helps us plug holes in gaps on certain value chains,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said last week, touting the new partnership with Lilium and KL1.

With backing from a major European government, Lilium should be poised to roll out a much larger drone taxi fleet – possibly by 2027 – outflanking its leading US-based rivals.  Joby and Archer have pushed back their small-scale commercialization plans to 2026.  Only China’s eHang, which counts on massive subsidies from Beijing, and has already begun marketing its compact 2-person EH216 vehicle, will likely be able to keep up, but on a smaller scale and without comparable access to the US market.

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