24 May 2023
Originally posted on Nov. 11. Expanded and updated on Dec. 21, 2020; published in Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2021 as "Lilium Launches from Florida."
On Nov. 11 — at the beginning of the 11th hour of this 11th day of the 11th month — Florida politicians and business leaders announced that the German company Lilium was integrating its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) advanced air mobility (AAM) solution into the state’s civil transportation network. The city of Orlando, the Tavistock Development Company and Lilium held a virtual press briefing to announce that Lake Nona — adjacent to Orlando International Airport — would be the site of what it called the first eVTOL vertiport in the world.
Lake Nona’s central location provides the opportunity to connect more than 20 million Floridians within a 186-mile [300 km] radius, serving several major cities including Orlando and Tampa. The Lake Nona vertiport will create more than 100 jobs in the Orlando area, with hundreds more to follow across Florida.
— Lilium press release, Nov. 11, 2020
Tavistock is investing $25M to develop the 56,000-ft³ (5,200-m³) Lake Nona vertiport, with Lilium repaying the investment in landing fees over time. The project will receive up to $831,250 in economic development-related tax incentives, according to eVTOL.com. Home to Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal and other theme parks and resorts, Orlando is seen as a connection point for half of the 150 million visitors to the state.
During the press briefing, Dr. Remo Gerber, Lilium’s Chief Operating Officer, stated that the Lilium Jet has a range able to connect much of the state of Florida, due to its design optimized for long range. Maps provided with the press release show Miami as being within the 186-mile (300-km) range, although that number has been caveated before (see, for instance, “Lilium Draws Searing Publicity, Then Soaring Investment,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2020) as no reserves, no headwinds and with significant battery improvements than the company is flying today. Notably, Gerber remarked that the aircraft was 10 times more efficient in cruise than in hover; said another way, the aircraft requires 10 times more power for hover than cruise.
Gerber said that the company expected its Lilium Jet aircraft would be certificated within the next 3–4 years: "certification is going to take place somewhere between now and at some point in 2024, early 2024, roughly in that order of magnitude in that time frame."
Maximum predicted range for the Lilium Jet is 300 km / 186 miles (Lilium)
Discussing the partnership, Tavistock Managing Director (and former CFO of Signature Flight Support) Ben Weaver said:
We are delighted to partner with Lilium to create the first US network of vertiports and to launch within Lake Nona’s living lab allowing unrivaled connectivity unlike anything developed in the country to date. This partnership and network launch highlight our community’s passion and commitment to groundbreaking partnerships and new technologies that sets us apart as a city of the future. Lilium’s core mission of transport which not only supports bringing the region together, but also provides a solution to environmental issues, is incredibly impressive.
City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer proffered:
For this new technology to truly reshape the transportation ecosystem and benefit Orlando residents long-term, it is going to take a true partnership between cities, developers and transportation operators. We have been focused on finding the right partners to be a global leader in the advanced air mobility space. I’m thrilled that our progressive and collaborative environment has created an opportunity for this unique partnership between the City of Orlando, Lilium and Lake Nona to invest in the expansion of safe, efficient and environmentally friendly transportation options throughout one of the fastest-growing regions in the country.
Commenting on the ground-breaking partnership, Gerber said:
We are thrilled to partner with Tavistock and build the first stretch of Florida’s high-speed electric transportation network with Central Florida at its core. It shows that regional high-speed air mobility can be built by private initiative and give communities such as Lake Nona, which can also serve Orlando and arrivals from its international airport, the ability to determine themselves whether they want a link into a high-speed transportation network.
Of course, the vertiport is subject to approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and other regulatory agencies. The Lilium aircraft is undergoing certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the FAA and "will operate under existing regulatory frameworks," Lilium said in the press release.
Lilium and Tavistock created a “breakthrough vertiport architecture for its hub location that is both functional and aesthetically unique and resembles the iconic art within Lake Nona.” Tavistock said that a variety of standardized vertiport designs will allow flexibility, so that sites can be uniquely assembled or incorporated into existing transport structures in both urban and suburban developments. These designs could provide options for metropolitan landscapes with the ability for offsite pre-construction that reduce costs and accelerate development.
According to the press release, Lake Nona provides “an unmatched location contiguous to the Orlando International Airport, the origination site of more than half of the region’s 75 million annual visitors, with a robust economy and infrastructure ready to support the US launch of electric air mobility.” Lake Nona was described as the “Future of Cities” by Fortune magazine, in 2014.
In addition to the international airport, Orlando’s "aerotropolis" includes a number of aviation companies and services, including several within the Lake Nona community, which is home to BBA Aviation/Signature Flight Support and SIMCOM Aviation Training, which announced in August that it would build its new global headquarters there to train approximately 10,000 pilots each year.
Lilium first began discussions in Orlando (a favorite holiday destination for Germans) in 2018. The Orlando Business Journal noted on Nov. 4 that “the city has been bullish on the use of flying taxis that transport people short distances through the air.”
The Orlando City Council approved the economic incentives on Nov. 9. Electric VTOL aircraft have been part of the city’s draft “Orlando Future-Ready City Master Plan,” which is expected to “guide the rollout of new programs and policies to advance internet connectivity, autonomous vehicles and more,” the Journal reported. The draft Master Plan — posted in late 2020 — has mobility as a major pillar of its “short-term strategies.” It calls for a plan to engage eVTOL companies “to connect activity centers within the central Florida regions (city taxi model) and connect Orlando to other cities in the southeast.”
The plan states that eVTOL aircraft would contribute to “reducing congestion, providing for centralized economic development at and around EVTOL infrastructure and providing a more environmentally sustainable method of transportation.” According to eVTOL.com, “The state has long struggled to improve connectivity between its major cities and destinations, a problem that will worsen as the state of 21 million expects to add 4 million to its population by the end of the decade.”