German electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi manufacturer Lilium continues to inch closer to type certification.
Less than two weeks removed from receiving design organization approval (DOA) from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for its Lilium Jet, the company this week delivered the first fuselage for its flagship aircraft to its final assembly line in Wessling, Germany, marking an official shift from design to production.
In September, the manufacturer enlisted partner Aciturri to begin assembling the first of seven fuselages for the initial wave of Lilium Jet models. Those aircraft will eventually be deployed for flight testing with EASA in order to prove to the regulator that the design is safe for commercial operations. The campaign is aiming to culminate in type certification of the Jet in 2025.
The delivery of the first fuselage aligns with Lilium’s previously stated target of Q4 2023. According to that roadmap, assembly of the first Jet is expected to start before year’s end, with crewed flights of the first model beginning in 2024. On Wednesday, the company said its suppliers are also ramping up production of parts and systems for the aircraft.
“To see the first aircraft fuselage on the final assembly line ready to join up with the canard and wings is a proud moment for everyone involved in our mission to make aviation sustainable,” said Klaus Roewe, CEO of Lilium. “We firmly believe the Lilium Jet will usher in a new era of sustainable regional mobility, offering the highest safety standards, as well as superior comfort, unit economics, and customer experience.”
The German manufacturer’s flagship aircraft is an all-electric seven-seater expected to fly advanced air mobility (AAM) routes between towns and inner cities, cruising at 162 knots on trips spanning 25 to 125 sm (22 to 109 nm).
The Jet differs a bit from its competitors, such as Archer Aviation’s Midnight, Overair’s Butterfly, or Joby Aviation’s air taxi. Those designs use a tiltrotor architecture—in which the rotors rotate when shifting between vertical and forward flight. By contrast, Lilium opted for 36 electric ducted fans embedded in the Jet’s wings, with no moving parts.
But like its air taxi rivals, Lilium plans to offer low-noise, zero-emission flights in densely populated areas, ferrying passengers over the congested streets below. In September, the company started building the first all-electric propulsion system for its initial models, also partnering with Japan’s Denso to ramp up production of the Jet’s electric engine. In addition, it extended its collaboration with Slovak battery maker InoBat to prepare for high-volume manufacturing.
In the next phase, engines will be integrated into the Jet’s aircraft propulsion mounting system—a flap structure that forms the rear part of the wings and front canards, designed and built by partner Aernnova—for further testing. The fuselage, meanwhile, will be joined with the wings and canards.
Lilium’s Wessling location comprises a testing and manufacturing center, propulsion and aerostructures facility, final assembly building, and newly built battery assembly building and logistics hub. The latter is where parts and components will be prepped for integration on the final assembly line.
Keeping the Ball Rolling
Since receiving an initial certification basis for the Jet from EASA in 2020, Lilium has made steady progress toward commercialization.
Perhaps the biggest milestone was obtaining the DOA from EASA last month. The approval is essentially the regulator’s acknowledgment that a company meets the safety and regulatory standards required to produce EASA Part 21 aircraft that are fit to fly in shared airspace, as Lilium is seeking to do.
For manufacturers in the EU, DOA is a required step in type certification for aircraft developed under EASA’s special condition for VTOL (SC-VTOL) rules, which were designed as a standard for safe market entry globally. Lilium’s was awarded six years after the firm first applied for the rigorous process, and it establishes that the company is authorized to design and hold a type certificate for its aircraft.
“In simple terms, the DOA is our license to operate and confirms that Lilium has the organization, procedures, competencies, resources, and demonstrated rigor required to design and certify aircraft according to the very highest safety standards,” said Alastair McIntosh, chief technology officer and head of design organization at Lilium, last month.
In another update in July, the company said its means of compliance proposal—which outlines how it plans to adhere to the requirements laid out in its certification basis—was almost 80 percent approved by EASA. Means of compliance is another key requirement that will enable future flight testing.
Simultaneously, Lilium is working to certify the Jet in the U.S. The German manufacturer is the first and only eVTOL air taxi company with certification bases from both EASA and the FAA, setting it up for commercial launches in both markets in a few years. It plans to leverage the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement between the two agencies to accelerate the process on the U.S. side.
In October, Lilium laid more groundwork to bring its aircraft to the American market. Through a partnership with Houston-based EMCJet, a full-service aircraft brokerage and management firm, it will deliver five Pioneer Edition Jets—each billed at a hefty $10 million—to be sold to private customers nationwide.
The Pioneer Edition is the four-seat planned launch edition of the full-scale Jet, aimed at wealthy GA and business aviation operators. According to Lilium, it will be the first aircraft of its kind available for private sale in the U.S. A total of 50 are expected to be delivered globally, including to buyers in the Middle East, the U.K., and mainland Europe.
According to Matthew Broffman, head of Lilium partnerships and network for the Americas, the rollout of the Pioneer Edition will be an appetizer for the larger Jet and a key step in the company’s path to market.
“Disruptions in products, and specifically transportation, are best done when starting with the premium market,” Broffman told FLYING in October. “In the 1930s, it cost half the price of a car to purchase a ticket to fly from coast to coast. Tesla didn’t launch with the Model 3, but instead the $100,000 Roadster, and even the first refrigerator cost more than $10,000 in today’s dollars.”
After selling to the premium segment and introducing flyers to AAM, Lilium intends to roll out the six-passenger Jet to airlines, brokers, and charter operators for air taxi services around the world—including in South Florida. Outside the U.S., it has aircraft orders from operators in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and China, where manufacturer EHang recently earned the world’s first eVTOL type certificate.