Lilium sees big potential to begin commercial air taxi in S. Korea by 2025

A Lilium Jet prototype flies during a test near an airfield in southern Germany on Oct. 22. During the test flight, it flew at speeds exceeding 100 kilometers per hour and performed complex maneuvers including transitioning from vertical to level flight. Courtesy of Lilium. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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SEOUL, Nov 7, 2019, The Korea Times. Lilium, one of the world’s frontrunner air taxi developers, plans to begin commercial services in 2025 and considers Korea as one of its early markets, according to the company’s chief commercial officer (CCO), The Korea Times reported.

“We are building a totally new motor transportation, and that can be very relevant in Korea as well. So we are here to see and start engaging businesspeople here and various parties in Korea,” Lilium CCO Remo Gerber said during an interview with The Korea Times upon his visit to the country Oct. 24.

Lilium is a German startup developing electric aircraft which can take off vertically as an on-demand air mobility service. The company’s all-electric five-seater Lilium Jet prototype aircraft was first revealed to the public in May and flew at speeds exceeding 100 kilometers per hour on Oct. 22, as well as showcasing complex maneuvers.

The company has already attracted more than $100 million in funding from renowned investors such as Atomico, Tencent, LGT, Freigeist and Obvious Ventures.

Gerber refused to give the details of discussions with his Korean counterparts, but said talks are underway with regulators and Korean partners over the firm’s entry into the domestic market.

“We have a team that is engaging with a number of people on the government side and we’re also talking to different private institutions to really gauge the appetite from the Korean business side and the Korean government side,” he said. “We always start working with local regulators and aviation authorities first, and that’s why we are here. Without them, we’re not going to make this business a reality.”

Gerber visited Korea amid news that conglomerates in the country are heavily investing into personal air vehicles and related services through partnerships. Last month, Hyundai Motor Group and the government said they will start a pilot air taxi service in 2025. Hanwha Systems made a $25 million equity investment in K4 Aeronautics of the U.S. in July, and they are jointly developing personal air vehicles.

As part of its plan to launch commercial air taxi services in 2025, Lilium recently completed its first mass-manufacturing facility at its headquarters in Munich, and is building another at the same site, to support the company’s plan to produce hundreds of Lilium Jets a year.

Gerber said the reason the company is considering Korea as one of its early markets is the country’s small size and the government’s intention to nurture the air taxi industry.

“You don’t really have many airplane services within the country because of distances. It oftentimes doesn’t make much sense to fly with large aircraft,” Gerber said. “But these are types of our opportunity because we can connect not only big cities but also village-size towns, where there are the minimum level of infrastructure ― such as helipads and chargers.”

When commercialized, a Lilium Jet will be able to fly 300 kilometers within an hour on a single charge. Given the distance between Seoul and southeastern port city of Busan is 325 kilometers, a Lilium Jet can cover the majority of South Korea without recharging, throwing a challenge to Korean air carriers which suffer losses from operating domestic routes.

“We’re coming into a new mode of transport. Only helicopters so far were able to do something similar. But also they are very loud. Therefore, in many places they are not allowed and are unwanted,” he said. “Here, we are presenting a vehicle which can do something very similar to helicopters but fully electric, very quiet, affordable, clean and fast.”

One of the examples Gerber mentioned was a taxi service connecting Incheon International Airport and Seoul Station and charge for $80 per flight and customers can book this with a smartphone app. Given the fare of land taxi service between the two places cost approximately $50, Gerber said the services can be an affordable and attractive option for many.

“We believe air taxi services have to be an open ecosystem,” he said. “Like railways, this is a public good, thus this should be there for a wider population. For that, we will have to and want to work with local partners in order to make it a reality.”

Another reason behind Lilium’s interest in Korea is the government’s initiative to nurture air the taxi business in Korea. The government announced on Oct. 14 that it will provide financial and regulatory support to run air taxi pilot projects by 2025.

“There are a lot of governments around the world which are very welcoming to this kind of conversation, but to have a government standing up and saying it out loud is very encouraging. This is one of the reasons why we’ve always thought of Korea as a good market,” said Oliver Walker-Jones, head of communication at Lilium.

Gerber said, “We are being contacted by a lot of markets around the world and what we haven’t decided yet is exactly which ones are our launch markets. We are in discussions with a number of markets, including Korea, in parallel, and eventually we will make that final decision and it depends on how willing is the local government and business community to engage.”

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