Top high technology investors have doled out $90 million to Lilium, a German start-up with Silicon Valley-scale ambitions to develop a 5-passenger “flying taxi”.
This is one of the best-funded electric aircraft projects to date.
The company has emerged as one of Europe’s hottest start-ups as it looks to create a new category of aircraft capable of both vertical take-off and electric powered jet flight.
Lilium said on Tuesday the new funding, led by Chinese internet giant Tencent, also includes Liechtenstein-based LGT, Europe’s largest family-owned investment firm; European venture firm Atomico; and Obvious Ventures, whose co-founder, Evan Williams, is a co-founder of Twitter.
In April, Lilium said it was developing a five-seat “flying taxi” after mounting successful test flights of a full-size, two-seat jet capable of a mid-air transition from hover mode, like drones, to wing-borne flight, like conventional aircraft.
Wing-borne, electric-powered flight allows commuter aircraft to travel five or six times the distance of drones, a Lilium executive said.
A 20-km (12-mile) trip from Manhattan to JFK Airport could take as little as five minutes, he estimated.
“The concept goes far beyond what you typically see from German start-ups,” said Remo Gerber, the former European managing director of online taxi firm Gett, who was named Lilium’s chief commercial officer last month.
Lilium said it plans to use the new funds to expand hiring and carry it through the next development stages of its 5-seater electric jet, buying it time to meet stringent regulatory approvals.
The 70-employee company has roughly as many outstanding job postings as current staff, and plans to rapidly scale up hiring of aeronautical engineers, physicists, computer science and electric propulsion experts, Gerber said.
Lilium, which was founded in 2015 by four graduates from the Technical University of Munich, is shooting for a manned test flight of its five-seat aircraft around 2019, and to roll-out “flying taxi” commuter services, subject to regulatory approvals, some time in the next decade.
Read more: Reuters