Air taxi startup Lilium's first U.S. hub to be in Florida

BERLIN (Reuters) - Flying taxi startup Lilium will set up its first U.S. hub near Orlando, putting more than 20 million Floridians within range of the winged electric aircraft that can take off vertically and cover 300 km (185 miles) in a single one-hour hop.

FILE PHOTO: An undated handout picture from Munich flying taxi startup Lilium shows its five-seater prototype in Munich, Germany, October, 2019. Lilium/Handout via REUTERS

Munich-based Lilium said on Wednesday its first U.S. Vertiport would be at Lake Nona, a futuristic smart city being built near Orlando International Airport by the Tavistock Development Group.

The hub, due to start operations in 2025, would be Lilium’s second after a similar Vertiport planned in Duesseldorf, capital of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Startups are racing to develop, certify and manufacture electric aircraft in a bid to revolutionise short-range travel. Five-year old Lilium - with $375 million in investor funding - is one of the best backed.

Its five-seater Lilium Jet has undergone flight tests and, if approved for service, would offer travellers a way to skip traffic and quickly reach their destinations for around the cost of an Uber, said Chief Operating Officer Remo Gerber.

The fixed-wing aircraft, powered by 36 electric engines which point down for takeoff and tilt to the rear for horizontal flight, would be steered by a qualified pilot.

“It’s a hundred times safer than helicopters. Pricing is five to 10 times cheaper,” Gerber told Reuters in an interview.

Power use for distance covered is similar to electric vehicles while, because there is no runway, the cost of a Vertiport here is far lower than a traditional airport, ranging from 1-2 million euros for a basic landing zone to 7-15 million euros ($8-$18 million) for a major rooftop hub.

“Lilium’s core mission of transport which not only supports bringing the region together, but also provides a solution to environmental issues, is incredibly impressive,” said Tavistock Managing Director Ben Weaver.

The City of Orlando is also backing the project, which Mayor Buddy Dyer described as an “expansion of safe, efficient and environmentally friendly transportation options throughout one of the fastest growing regions in the country”.

Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Mark Potter