Lilium, a German start-up, illustrates the potential and the risks of
creating a new generation of electric aircraft for urban transportation.
A lot is riding on his plane. Mr. Wiegand, 34, is the chief executive and a founder of Lilium, one of the most promising and secretive start-ups in the global race to build an all-electric aircraft that will — regulators and public opinion willing — move passengers above cities.
“This is the perfect means of transportation, something that can take off and land everywhere,” Mr. Wiegand (pronounced VEE-gand) said. “It’s very fast, very efficient and low noise.”
Expectations that aerial taxis will be a reality in the coming years are quickly building. Companies like Lilium are testing their machines ,laying the groundworkfor wider production and starting discussions to gain support from government officials
At least 20 companies are in the market, which Morgan Stanley estimates will top $850 million by 2040. Larry Page, the billionaire co-founder of Google, is financially backing Kitty Hawk, a company run by the first engineers on Google’s autonomous car. Boeing and Airbus have projects underway. Automakers including Daimler, Toyota and Porsche are investing in the sector. Uber is developing an air taxi service, with plans to open by 2023 in Los Angeles, Dallas and Melbourne, Australia.
Yet saying your plane could fly over Manhattan in five years doesn’t mean it will. Building durable jets at a reasonable cost still presents engineering and technical challenges. And a long process awaits with regulators, including the Federal Aviation Administration, that will need to weigh safety concerns.
“The question is can we build a platform that is broadly accessible to everybody and is not just a rich person’s toy, and can we build it so quiet that people on the ground aren’t annoyed by it?” said Sebastian Thrun, the chief executive of Kitty Hawk.
Lilium, which has raised more than $100 million from investors, illustrates the high-wire act of the companies trying to live up to the hype.