Brazilian airline Azul has signed a letter of intent to purchase 220 Lilium Jets flying taxis. According to the German manufacturer, the order involves a volume of around one billion euros and must be officially announced Monday on the sidelines of an investor day. Lilium also announced that former Tesla executive Gabrielle Toledano and former Airbus CEO and managing director of leasing company ILFC, Henri Courpron, will join the company’s board of directors.
The deal with Azul is the first major order for Lilium. In recent weeks, two other companies in the booming air taxi industry had already announced similar deals: United Airlines has ordered 200 machines from California start-up Archer. American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and the leasing company Avolon have commissioned British Vertical Aerospace to build up to 1,000 planes. Two helicopter operators have ordered 200 air taxis from Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer.
Lilium was founded in 2015 by a group of graduates from the Technical University of Munich, including CEO Daniel Wiegand. The company, based in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, now has more than 600 employees. Unlike most other providers in the air taxi industry, Lilium does not rely on downtown connections, but on regional routes.
The first seven-seater Lilium jets for Brazil are expected to be delivered in 2025. The regional high-speed Lilium and Azul network is to be in place within two to three years, according to Alexander Asseily, director of strategy at Lilium. The first Lilium Jet is due to be built next year. After flight tests and approval in 2024, commercial service is due to begin, initially in Florida and Germany.
Azul was founded in 2008 by Brazilian-American businessman David Neeleman, who still chairs the airline’s board of directors today. Azul operates a dense network of domestic flights, but has also established long-haul international routes, including to the United States. Neeleman is also the founder of JetBlue Airways and WestJet (Canada). Most recently, he launched a new airline in the United States with Breeze Airways.
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Sao Paulo, future location for air taxis: a good 20 million people live in the metropolitan area.
(Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)
The Lilium Jet can accommodate six passengers and a pilot. Unlike other newer air taxis, it is not designed for intra-city connections, but for regional flights initially up to 250 kilometers and at an altitude of around 3000 meters. The Lilium Jet is driven by 36 small rotating electric motors mounted on four wings. The range should increase as soon as better batteries become available. For Brazil, this means: “We will also arrive (from Sao Paulo) in Rio de Janeiro three years after the start. In 2026, we will have a range of 300 km.
Sao Paulo is currently one of the largest helicopter markets in the world. Businesses and wealthy individuals use helicopters for transportation to the city center or for shuttles to Guarulhos International Airport. Azul wants to conquer this market with the Lilium Jet which, according to Asseily, represents only one fifth of the operating costs of a helicopter.
For the major order from Brazil, Lilium deviates from the original business model. It “takes a little more traditional approach,” says Asseily. “We sell fleets of planes to airlines, governments and logistics companies. We would be hard pressed in a country like Brazil to assemble them ourselves so quickly and with the same quality.”
Toledano and Courpron are expected to join Lilium’s board of directors upon acquisition by listed Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) Qell Acquisition Corp. is finished. According to Asseily, the approval process with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is on schedule and will be completed in the coming weeks. Former Airbus boss Tom Enders will then head the board.