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Flying-Taxi Startup Lilium Sees Opening to Grab Airline Orders From Rivals

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(Bloomberg) -- German air-taxi startup Lilium GmbH sees potential to grab airline orders from competitors as the race to launch electric vertical takeoff and landing craft heats up.

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Uncertainty over achieving certification for eVTOLs means those deals inked so far shouldn’t be seen as final, Vice Chairman Alexander Asseily said in an interview at the Dubai Airshow. The ability to quickly ramp up production will also determine which of the leading startups ultimately prevails, he said.

“There’s going to be a massive shortage of supply even with multiple players with certified aircraft,” Asseily said. “On top of that, it’s not clear that any of the big players, any of the big commercial airlines, will lock themselves in needlessly to one player or another.”

While Lilium has agreed to build a flying-taxi network for Brazilian carrier Azul SA, U.K. rival Vertical Aerospace Group Ltd. has accords with American Airlines Group Inc., Japan Airlines Co. and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. U.S.-based Archer Aviation has garnered deals with United Airlines Holdings Inc., while Joby Aviation Inc. is collaborating with JetBlue Airways Corp.

Lilium listed on the NASDAQ in September. The company’s shares traded down 2.9% as of Friday’s close at $8.52.

As important as it is to have orders, “it doesn’t matter if you can’t ship an aircraft,” Asseily said. “As excited as we are about all the deals we’ve announced, the absolute focus right now is the development program.”

Munich-based Lilium, which was founded in 2015, is aiming for service entry in 2024, putting it among the pioneers in the sector. The company’s seven-seater model uniquely uses 36 electric motors powering mini jets rather than propellers. Lilium did its first full-scale, full-weight test flight in 2019 on a smaller five-seater demonstrator.

In addition to targeting commuter routes for the wealthy, such as New York to the Hamptons or Miami to Palm Beach, Lilium is looking at opportunities to serve isolated communities including in locations such as Oregon, Asseily said.

Lilium’s business model envisages providing its own pay-per-ride service or selling fleets of aircraft with arranged service and maintenance support to corporate and government customers. Discussions are underway with authorities in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as the U.S.

(Adds Lilium shares. A previous version of this story corrected first flight test in 6th paragraph, details of business model in 8th.)

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