Air taxi startup Lilium stages test 'hover' of 5-seater prototype

INTERNATIONAL - Air taxi start-up Lilium has staged a successful maiden flight of a five-seater prototype that it hopes to bring into service by 2025 to whisk passengers between cities without the hassle of an airport check-in. 

The battery-powered aircraft, operated by remote control, took off vertically at a Munich airfield, marking a milestone for the German start-up backed by investors including Atomico, Tencent, LGT and Obvious Ventures. 

“In less than two years, we have been able to design, build and successfully fly an aircraft that will serve as our template for mass production,” said Lilium’s co-founder and chief executive Daniel Wiegand of the May 4 test flight. 

Video footage provided by the company showed the aircraft lifting off slowly and then floating in mid-air. It did not take a spin around the airfield as an earlier two-seater prototype did back in 2017. 

Members of the Lilium team cheered and hugged each other as the maiden "hover" went to plan. More testing and work to win airworthiness certifications from European and US air safety regulators will follow. 

The Lilium Jet seeks to revolutionise short-distance air travel - its batteries power 36 all-electric jet engines that face downward at take-off, but then swing to power horizontal flight. Lifting off from a standing start uses only a tenth of the energy of a traditional runway take-off, so that even with today’s battery technology it can fly up to 300km in an hour, chief commercial officer Remo Gerber says.