Banking

Lilium just sold $1 billion worth of electric flying cars to Brazil’s Azul Airlines. The exec who’s taking the startup public says the deal is just one step in his plan for global growth.

  • Lilium, a German startup building electric air taxis, is going public this year.
  • The six-year-old startup wants to dominate regional travel.
  • Lilium’s new $1 billion deal with a Brazilian airline shows how it plans to do that.

Lilium, the German electric air taxi startup going public this year, has struck a deal to build as many as 220 battery-powered, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for Brazilian air carrier Azul Airlines, the companies announced Monday morning. The deal could be worth up to $1 billion. 

Azul will operate the fleet in Brazil, as part of the companies’ co-branded regional electric air mobility network, which they expect to start in 2025. 

The deal is a coup for Lilium as the six-year-old Munich-based startup works to commercialize the kind of aircraft that let regional travelers soar over traffic, no emissions necessary. Lilium’s version is a seven-seat air-taxi that can fly at 10,000 feet with a 155-mile range and a top speed of 175 mph — quick enough to get from Manhattan to JFK Airport in about 5 minutes, the company says

“It’s a new mode of transportation which doesn’t exist today,” said Barry Engle, who is taking Lilium public via a merger with Qell, the special purpose acquisition company (

SPAC
) he founded and runs. 

“It’s a substitute for, or an alternative to, long, boring car rides, covering less distance than typically you would use an aircraft for it. But it’s covering a range that is not a great use case for an automobile,” Engle said in an interview with Insider. “In the not-too-distant future, this could be as big as the entire automotive industry.” 

Other players in the space include Palo Alto’s Archer Aviation, which has a similar $1 billion deal with United Airlines, and Joby Aviation, which aims to launch commercial operations in 2024. And no wonder: The global eVTOL market could grow to as much as $1 trillion by 2040, according to a recent report by Morgan Stanley

Engle, a former General Motors executive, says Lilium offers a proposition that could make it a leader in that market. Along with its deal with Azul, Lilium is developing travel networks in Florida and Germany. 

The networks are what’s critical. “We’re building a network of heliports that will allow people to move en masse efficiently, sustainably and affordably from one city center to another city center,” Engle said.

“It’s not calling a taxi on the phone and having it land in your driveway. It’s not that at all. And it’s not a flying car. It’s a bonafide aircraft that is subject to all the same commercial aircraft requirements and regulatory certification in order to deliver the exact same safety levels that you experience today on a commercial aircraft. It’s just a different world.”

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