At the UP. Summit of June 13th, at the annual gathering of leaders in transportation innovation hosted by investment firm UP. Partners, urban air mobility (UAM) pioneer Volocopter announced that it has achieved another milestone to bring UAM to life: its fixed-winged passenger aircraft, the VoloConnect, completed its first flight in May 2022. This accomplishment makes Volocopter the only eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft) developer in the Western hemisphere to have an entire fleet of distinct aircraft configurations undergoing flight tests.*
Volocopter’s third product solution, the VoloConnect, offers further and faster journeys than any other Volocopter aircraft to date, with a range of over 60 mi and flight speeds above 155 mph. The passenger plane’s extended range and higher payload will bring business travellers and commuters beyond the city centre on routes like Burbank to Huntington Beach in Los Angeles, CA. With the VoloCity and VoloConnect air taxi designs fulfilling demands for metropolitan flights and suburban connections in densely populated regions respectively, Volocopter is ready to serve a broader range of passengers’ flight needs. Moreover, the VoloConnect is targeting a 2026 entry into service, while the VoloCity is targeting a commercial launch in 2024. Read more.
“Lilium”, developer of the first all-electric vertical take-off and landing (“eVTOL”) jet, has partnered with Honeywell and DENSO, who will co-develop and manufacture the Lilium Jet’s electric motor (e-motor) that will power the Lilium Jet’s engines. Honeywell is already developing the Lilium Jet’s avionics and flight control systems and invested in Lilium in 2021. A leader in aerospace technologies with over 100 years of experience, Honeywell also has an alliance with automotive giant DENSO to develop aerospace electric propulsion solutions. Through this collaboration, the Lilium Jet’s e-motor will benefit from Honeywell’s aerospace expertise as well as DENSO’s experience in high-quality volume production.
The Lilium e-motor is a proprietary, high-performance system, on which Lilium, DENSO and Honeywell teams have been working for nearly two years. It is expected to bring exceptional performance and reliability with zero operating emissions typically associated with commercial jet engines. An air-cooled design offers structural simplicity and ease of maintenance compared with traditional liquid cooling systems, and therefore has the potential to significantly reduce aircraft operating costs. The e-motor has its rotor and stator in a centrifugal or ‘radial’ configuration, compared to traditional axial designs. This lowers the component’s weight, manufacturing costs and susceptibility to foreign object damage. It also boasts industry-leading power density, with the first prototypes designed to extract over 100kW of power from a system weighing just over 4kg.
Yves Yemsi, Chief Operating Officer of Lilium said: “Lilium’s Procurement strategy is to engage with the technology providers with the most suitable expertise. We are already making great progress with Honeywell on its Honeywell Anthem integrated flight deck and flight control computers, and we are delighted to deepen our relationship by also partnering with Honeywell and DENSO on our e-motor. The collaboration with these two powerhouses takes us further along the path to revolutionizing regional air mobility.” Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager of Urban Air Mobility, Honeywell Aerospace said: “Honeywell has been at the forefront of innovation in aviation for a century, and we are proud to closely collaborate with DENSO and help usher in the age of electric flight. Lilium’s innovation, combined with our experience in aerospace, will help to bring about a cleaner, more sustainable ways for people to travel for centuries to come.” Koji Ishizuka, senior director of the Electric Sora-Mobi Business Promotion Department at DENSO, said: “DENSO’s focus is powering the shift to a green, safe and seamless mobility future for all. We’re grateful to work with Honeywell and Lilium on making air travel cleaner and more efficient, and in doing so, we have the opportunity to apply our electrification expertise to vehicles on land and in the sky.” Source: ‘Lilium‘.
Summary of findings
- German company Lilium is building an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) — the Lilium Jet. Its objective is for the Jet to fly up to 155 miles. But none of Lilium’s demonstrators have flown for more than three minutes even after seven years of work. eVTOL industry leader Joby Aviation Inc. has flown 150 miles on its current model.
- Many experts have raised serious doubts about the Jet’s ability to fly 155 miles. This is largely due to its configuration of 36 ducted fans (recently reduced to 30) that devour power during takeoff and landing (hovering), and leaves little power for actual flight.
- Against these criticisms, Lilium argued that battery consumption would be minimized as little time would be spent in hover (take off and landing). One engineer told us that Lilium underestimates the hover time that will be required by aviation regulators.
- Lilium promises its Jet has ready access to battery cells with energy density of 320-330 Wh/kg. One of the sources it relies on to show these batteries are within reach is Zenlabs Energy Inc. Zenlabs is a 34.8% Lilium-owned associated company whose CEO Sujeet Kumar was accused by General Motors of misrepresenting battery performance, while at his previous company Envia Systems.
- CEO Daniel Wiegand had no meaningful professional aerospace experience before starting Lilium in 2015. His alma mater, the Technical University of Munich, criticised the Lilium Jet’s concept. The university wanted no association with Lilium.
- Both Joby and Lilium hope aviation authorities will certify their eVTOLs for commercial flight in 2023. This means both firms must have sufficient test flights for certification credit to hit that target. Joby is closer to the mark with ~1,000 test flights under its belt. Lilium is likely to miss the 2023 target by miles. It has completed less than 50 test flights on its fourth and fifth (current) demonstrators. We believe the design of its Jet further complicates the certification process.
- We estimate that Lilium has about 18 months before its cash runs dry.
- Lilium announced in August 2021 that Brazilian airline Azul ordered 220 jets for $1bn. We believe the deal is more akin to a ‘marketing agreement’: Lilium offered cheap shares to Azul in exchange for the right to market an established company as a partner. Such stock-for-image deals rarely lead to real business.
- Around 177 million Lilium shares (~68% of the company’s total outstanding shares) worth ~$652m will be unlocked for sale today.
Overview of Lilium
Lilium NV was founded in 2015 to develop electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL).
The air-taxi startup has gone through five iterations of its eVTOL — the Lilium Jet — over the last seven years. Its end-goal is to commercialize the Jet in 2024, assuming all aviation regulatory hurdles are cleared, and provide regional air mobility services (ticket sales) and sell aircraft to corporations, cargo companies, and wealthy individuals.
The pitch to investors is for Lilium to transport more passengers with its differentiated technology, and over longer distances [Pg 5 of March 2021 investor presentation] than peers such as Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation. The Jet has an unconventional design with a propulsion system consisting of 36 wing flaps. These flaps serve as lifting and control surfaces and each contains a ducted electric fan — a design that emits less noise according to Lilium.
Lilium is one of many startups in the crowded and competitive electric aviation space (see below). The company went public after its reverse merger with SPAC Qell Acquisition Corp on 14 September 2021. Its market cap was ~$1bn as of 11 March 2022. Source: ‘Iceberg-research’.
Found on the website of Netjets: At NetJets, we know that sustainability is not a trend for private aviation, but it’s future. In continued support of our sustainability goals, we are proud to announce our partnership with Lilium®, a Munich-based manufacturer of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) jets. In this partnership, NetJets has the right to purchase up to 150 Lilium jets for use in our shared ownership program and will provide operations support for Lilium’s upcoming Florida hub. Like NetJets, FlightSafety International is a Berkshire Hathaway company and will also partner to provide Crew training products and services that will support Lilium operations.
A forward-thinking partnership
As the eVTOL market grows, regional air mobility and private aviation sustainability are growing in tandem—a true reflection of our industry’s future. NetJets retains an industry-leading position by recognizing and investing in companies such as Lilium, which know the future of air travel must be sustainable to become commonplace. That is why our partnership includes operations support for Lilium in Florida because decisions at NetJets—the owner and operator of the world’s largest, most diverse private fleet—have a ripple effect, and our adoption speaks volumes.
Zero-emission travel to nearby destinations
Fly to a nearby getaway, visit a relative a few cities over, or make the most of your next day trip. Travelling on a Lilium jet means considerably less carbon impact than taking a gas-fueled car to the same destination, thanks to 100% electric power. And with eVTOL technology, helipad infrastructure becomes available, expanding access to departure and takeoff locations. Travel to your NetJets aircraft with ease, depart from and arrive in more convenient fixed-base operators (FBOs), and enjoy more time savings on short legs, all while reducing your environmental impact. Source: ‘Netjets’.