The German eVTOL developer Lilium has completed an internal funding round worth over $240 million, bringing its total investment to date to more than $340 million, the company has announced.
The round was led by Tencent, with participation from other existing investors including Atomico, Freigeist, and LGT. Lilium said the money will be used to support further development of the Lilium Jet as well as underpinning preparations for serial production, with the aim of launching a regional air mobility service as early as 2025.
According to Lilium’s chief financial officer, Christopher Delbrück, “This additional funding underscores the deep confidence our investors have in both our physical product and our business case. We’re very pleased to be able to complete an internal round with them, having benefitted greatly from their support and guidance over the past few years.”
The five-seater Lilium Jet is a “tilt jet” aircraft with 36 ducted fans mounted on its flaps, with a proposed range of 300 kilometers (186 miles). According to the company, it could enable users to make the 130-km journey between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in less than half an hour, or travel the 298 km between Munich and Frankfurt in around an hour. A full-scale prototype flew for the first time in May 2019 and completed the first phase of its flight testing in October.
However, the company suffered a setback last month, when its first Lilium Jet prototype was damaged in a fire that broke out during ground maintenance activities on Feb. 27 at the company’s headquarters near Munich. At the time, Walker-Jones said that nobody was injured and the company was looking at understanding the cause of the issue, with plans to continue the flight test campaign using a second demonstrator once the root cause analysis has been completed and any necessary actions taken.
Before the fire, the prototype was flying at speeds of greater than 100 km/h, and continued “to see progress that matches our predictions,” Walker-Jones told eVTOL.com recently in a more expansive update on the company’s progress. In late 2019 and into early 2020, “we’ve shown the aircraft achieving longer, higher-speed and more complex flights,” he said. Lilium also recently completed the construction of its first manufacturing facility, with a second soon to follow.
The plan is for the Lilium Jet to enter commercial service in 2025 — the company’s 10th anniversary. “We remain on track to achieve that goal, with certification conversations progressing well with the relevant authorities,” Walker-Jones said.
He highlighted the “fairly novel challenge” of developing an aerospace company from scratch. For example, he said, Lilium has had to work hard to recruit the 400 members of staff that now work at the company.
“Lots of these people come from established aerospace companies, allowing us to very quickly grow into a mature aerospace organization,” he noted.
At a high level, he said the sector as a whole “has really come alive over the last five years,” with more than 200 different concepts in various stages of development. “There has also been solid progress in the technologies that will underpin our service, for example in batteries and avionics,” he added.
The problems that the sector aims to address — notably congestion, climate change and the constraints on urban living — are all becoming increasingly challenging, Walker-Jones said. With more than 20 percent of all carbon emissions stemming from transportation, the Lilium Jet and other eVTOLs could help address this challenge.
“The Lilium Jet was conceived on sustainable principles; its fully electric engines and zero operating emissions are central to it being part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” he said.
While high-density transport routes are unlikely to be replaced by eVTOL, they have a key role to play in augmenting regional transport, “providing a new way to travel that doesn’t require significant investment in infrastructure and doesn’t generate new emissions,” he continued.
Like other companies in the space, Lilium sees great potential for full autonomy, with the aircraft already possessing significant levels of automation, though the aircraft will operate with a pilot for at least its initial years of service. The company has developed an autonomy team, headed by Mirko Reuter, who previously led Audi’s autonomous driving program.
“As well as technology developments, we’ll need public and regulatory acceptance before we can fly autonomously — we believe this can be delivered. It’s just a matter of time,” Walker-Jones said.
He also highlighted the work being done by companies in areas that will support eVTOL, such as on the infrastructure side. While at a broad level the systems will require minimal infrastructure to support high-speed connections, “we’re working hard on this area and continue to make good progress, but we shouldn’t forget the advances being made by companies that work specifically on this topic too — we’re confident we’re on track for delivering a service in 2025.”
For the coming years, he suggested that the major challenge facing the sector will not be technology-based. “One of the greatest challenges will be achieving public acceptance — for that we’ve been working very hard to ensure we deliver an aircraft that has sound levels low enough to operate in urban environments,” he said, noting that Lilium plans to share more information on its work in this area later in 2020.