Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Former Airbus chief joins flying taxi start-up board

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Thomas enders, former CEO of the aviation giant Airbus, joins the board of directors of a very young flying taxi company.

The appointment of Enders is a blow to Lilium, a Munich-based company that pioneered the use of small electric jet engines to power its prototype five-seat flying vehicles, which take off and land vertically and are intended for short-haul intercity flights of up to 150 miles.

The former Airbus executive praised “Lilium’s pioneering spirit, innovation and entrepreneurial courage,” in a statement. He said the company’s use of small, electric turbo-fan jets made Lilium’s planes quieter and smaller than competing models from rival companies or helicopters. He also noted that the company had worked closely with European aviation safety regulators to ensure certification of its aircraft.

Enders’ membership of Lilium’s board of directors is a sign of the growing maturity of flying car startups. Once considered an element of science fiction, efforts to build businesses around flying taxis have garnered great interest from investors, entrepreneurs and aerospace engineers over the past five years. Lilium is considered a favorite among a host of startups that include Kitty Hawk, which is supported by Google co-founder Larry Page; Joby Aviation, which recently agreed to buy Uber’s flying taxi company, Volocopter; and Terrafugia. More established aerospace companies such as Airbus and Boeing are also working on similar small vertical take-off and landing planes intended for relatively short flights.

“Lilium is on its way from a visionary start-up to a serious aircraft manufacturer and service provider,” Enders said. “It’s a rocky road and by no means risk free. But how are we going to move aviation forward if not with new ideas and courageous young entrepreneurs? “

Lilium aims to launch commercial flights of its air taxis in 2025 and has already announced several locations around the world where it plans to operate intercity transport networks, including at airports in Düsseldorf, Cologne / Bonn, Germany, and Orlando, Florida.

To date, the company has raised more than $ 375 million in venture capital from investors including UK asset manager Baillie Gifford, Tencent, and Atomic, the London-based venture capital firm founded by billionaire and former Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom.

Although founded in 2015 by a group of young engineers from the Technical University of Munich, Lilium hired a number of veterans of the aerospace industry, including Airbus, to work in the startup. These include Yves Yemsi, who oversees the company’s jet program, who was previously head of Airbus’ defense and space division and had been a senior executive in the Airbus A350 program. It also includes Dick Gebser, director of manufacturing for Lilium, who had overseen Airbus’ assembly of the A380 and A320 planes.

Enders, who led Airbus from 2007 to 2019, is also an experienced helicopter pilot and avid paratrooper, who also served as a major in the reserves of the German Airborne Army division.

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