German aviation startup Lilium raises $90 mn for air taxi service

German aviation startup Lilium which is developing an electric car-sized aircraft, has received investor backing to the tune of $90 million.

The Munich-based startup was founded by four entrepreneurs in 2015, with a patented mini aircraft capable of taking off and landing vertically (like a helicopter); it can also fly like a plane once airborne.

With the series B funding from billionaire Skype cofounder Niklas Zennström, Chinese tech giant Tencent, and Obvious Ventures, whose cofounder Ev Williams is Twitter's cofounder and former CEO, the total investment in the company now stands at over $100 million.

The investment will be used for the development of the five-seat Lilium Jet that will fly commercially, as well as to grow our current team of more than 70. In April Lilium achieved a world first when the full size prototype successfully performed its most complicated manoeuvre - transitioning between hover mode and horizontal flight. 

Lilium hopes that its aircraft will be able to ferry people at speeds of 187mph for around an hour on a single charge. The planes which could hop across cities would land at designated rooftop terminals.

The Lilium Jet will be able to travel at up to 300 km per hour for one hour on a single charge - meaning an example 19 km journey from Manhattan to JFK Airport could last as little as five minutes. The jet's economy and efficiency means flights are predicted to cost less than the same journey in a normal road taxi.

Prices are not yet determined, but an app under development could be used to hail one of the company's mini-planes.

"It's difficult to say whether it'll be cheaper than an airline," Lilium COO Remo Gerber told Business Insider, adding that new routes such as St Albans to Birmingham would be possible. "We think a fare in a taxi or below is possible based on a people sharing a jet."

Daniel Wiegand, co-founder and CEO, said the investment makes Lilium one of the best-funded electric aircraft projects in the world. "Our backers recognise that Lilium's innovative eVTOL technology puts us in the lead in this exciting new industry, with no other company promising the economy, speed, range and low-noise levels of the Lilium Jet."

The Lilium Jet's electric jet engines are highly efficient and ultra-low noise, allowing it to operate in densely populated urban areas, while also covering longer distances at high speed with zero emissions. With the jet requiring no significant infrastructure, we will be able to bring high speed transportation services to small cities and villages as well as large city centres for the first time.

David Wallerstein, Chief Exploration Officer at Tencent said, ''Lilium's electric powered eVTOL aircraft offers new mobility options that can benefit people around the world. From under-developed regions with poor road infrastructure, to the developed world with traffic congestion and sprawl, new possibilities emerge when convenient daily flight becomes an option for all of us. Lilium offers a substantial and environmentally-friendly transportation breakthrough for humanity.''

However, the taxi service operations may still be several years off, given the Lilium jet will be following a classic development timeline for any new aircraft of its size, according to Wiegand.