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Lilium Air Mobility and VTOL Airports

an air taxi just hanging out

For several years, the promise of air taxis and a burgeoning air mobility market has been discussed. Worsening traffic congestion in major cities and climate concerns have fueled dreams that one day better options might exist. In this regard, electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOLs) vehicles have been considered possible solutions to transportation woes. Not only are they fully electric, but they also produce minimal noise and will likely be autonomous in the future. As technology in this area has advanced, major cities are taking steps to make this form of travel a reality. And some companies, including Lilium and Joby, look to be the frontrunners in providing air taxi solutions.

Across the country, several larger urban regions are inching closer to a viable air mobility market. Without question, several challenges exist when trying to develop such a market for public use. Infrastructures must be developed, and passenger safety must be thoroughly addressed. But with the help of NASA and innovative startups, models are rapidly being developed. Both Joby and Lilium air taxis will likely be zipping passengers to and from destinations sooner rather than later. And if all goes well, the price of these transportation options will soon approximate the cost of the traditional car or truck.

“Air taxis, especially if they come with requirements of certification, are among the most efficient means of transportation, if you look at it from a global economic perspective.” – Tassilo Wanner, VP of Global Public and Regulatory Affairs, Lilium

Recent Advances in the VTOL Air Mobility Market

When it comes to the air mobility market, VTOL companies have made major strides. Not only have the range of these vehicles increased, but they similarly travel at impressive speeds. For example, Lilium air taxis now have a range of 186 miles and top out at a speed of 190 mph. Joby Aviation has comparable performance stats with a range of 150 miles and speeds up to 200 mph. And both companies’ air taxis are fully electric, soon to be autonomous, and offer extremely low noise levels. These highly attractive features is why major cities are trying their best to include these as transit choices.

(Electric aircraft are the future… maybe. Decide for yourself after reading this Bold story.)

While Joby and Lilium air taxis have made notable strides from a technology perspective, so have cities. Notably, cities face significant challenges in developing an air mobility market. Certainly, vertical take-off and landing is convenient and requires much less space. It can also take place from the rooftops of existing buildings. But at the same time, VTOL vertiports must be near attractive destinations, respect existing flight paths, and consider adjacent structures. And they must provide adjacent transportation and micro-mobility options nearby. While this has posed barriers in advancing air taxis systems, major cities are devising solutions. And these solutions are coming with a bit of help from NASA.

Interestingly, NASA began looking into the air mobility market as far back as 2001. But it’s efforts have increased significantly in the last few years. NASA now provides cities with a Urban Air Mobility Regional Modeling and Simulation Tool. In fact, it began beta-testing the tool in the Tampa Bay region based on the area’s extensive geographic mapping and GIS expertise. Tampa has used NASA’s algorithm combined with existing data on land use, zoning, and flight patterns. As a result, the instrument is enabling Tampa to move ahead with hopes to utilize Lilium air taxis by 2025. Thus, not only have air taxis improved but air mobility market development technologies have as well.

“Really, the ultimate vision is to be able to commute with the Lilium Jet at a price that would be comparable to being in your own car.” – Marie Masson, Public Affairs, Lilium

The Evolving Urban Landscape of Air Taxis

In the U.S. presently, there are 6 major urban regions anticipating an air mobility market within the next three years. Several of these cities are working with California-based Joby Aviation. Specifically, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are developing necessary infrastructures and systems for air taxis. In doing so, they are creating initial pilot flight systems where private jets and helicopters already travel. As such, respective destinations from these major cities include places like Palm Beach, Pam Springs, and the Hamptons. The majority of these cities expect air taxis to be in existence some time in 2024.

an air taxi parked on the tarmac
Talk of air taxis dominates the air mobility market, but what about the airports where they’ll congregate?

Florida represents the other major area for air mobility market development. Germany-based Lilium Air Mobility has already announced its first U.S. office site to be in Lake Nona, just outside of Orlando. This $25 million project will not only be its American headquarters but site of a vertiport for Lilium air taxis. Lilium is also heavily invested in the Tampa Bay area where it expects operations some time in 2025. Based on the abilities of Lilium air taxis, a ride between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg would only take 8 minutes. Plus, both Tampa and St. Petersburg offer excellent locations for potential vertiport development. In all likelihood, these urban areas will be the primary testing ground for cities throughout the nation.

“We want to move forward and implement real mobility solutions. I think there’s an incredible willingness on the part of this board and the community to move forward with air taxi service.” – Jim Holton, Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) Board Member

Feasibility Measures of the Air Mobility Market

In addition to Federal Aviation Association approval and infrastructure development, one other issue is worth noting…cost. Based on current estimates in Tampa, Lilium air taxis would likely cost around $60-90 per trip. Overall, that’s not too bad considering an Uber routinely costs $40-50 currently with higher gas prices. But these prices are not expected to remain this high either. With increasing frequency of trips and autonomous systems, pricing of these Lilium air taxis should drop significantly. In fact, Lilium reps except the price to compete with transportation by car. Based on this and all the benefits air taxis offer, it seems inevitable that air mobility market expansion will occur. It’s smart, practical and feasible, which makes it hard to ignore. And that’s what makes it a strong bet for the future of urban transportation.

 

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