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Former Airbus chief joins board of flying-taxi startup

January 11, 2021, 6:01 PM UTC

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Thomas Enders, a former chief executive of aviation giant Airbus, is joining the board of a fledgling flying-taxi company.

Enders’s appointment is a coup for Lilium, a Munich-based company that has pioneered the use of small electric jet engines to power its prototype five-seat flying vehicles, which take off and land vertically and are intended for short-hop intercity flights of up to 150 miles.

The former Airbus executive praised Lilium’s “pioneering spirit, innovation, and entrepreneurial courage,” in a statement. He said that the company’s use of small electric turbofan powered jets made Lilium’s aircraft quieter and smaller than competing designs from rival companies or helicopters. He also noted that the company had been working closely with European air safety regulators to ensure certification of its aircraft.

Enders’s joining the Lilium board is a sign of the growing maturity of flying-car startups. Once considered something out of science-fiction, efforts to build companies around flying taxis have attracted serious interest from investors, entrepreneurs, and aerospace engineers during the past five years. Lilium is considered a front-runner among a bevy of startups that include Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Google cofounder Larry Page; Joby Aviation, which recently agreed to buy Uber’s flying-taxi business, Volocopter; and Terrafugia. More established aerospace companies such as Airbus and Boeing are also working on similar small, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft aimed at relatively short-distance flights.

“Lilium is on its way from visionary startup to serious aircraft manufacturer and service provider,” Enders said. “This is a rocky and by no means risk-free road. But how are we going to move aviation forward if not with fresh ideas and courageous young entrepreneurs?”

Lilium is aiming to begin commercial flights of its air taxis in 2025 and has already announced several locations around the world where it plans to run intercity transport networks, including airports in Düsseldorf and Cologne/Bonn, in Germany, as well as in Orlando.

The company has raised more than $375 million in venture capital to date, from investors that include U.K. asset manager Baillie Gifford, China’s Tencent, and Atomico, the London-based venture capital firm founded by billionaire and Skype cofounder Niklas Zennström.

Launched in 2015 by a group of young engineers from the Technical University of Munich, Lilium has since hired a number of aerospace industry veterans, including from Airbus, to work at the startup. These include Yves Yemsi, who oversees the company’s jet aircraft program and was previously head of Airbus’s defense and space division and had been a top executive in the Airbus A350 program. It also includes Dick Gebser, Lilium’s chief manufacturing officer, who had overseen Airbus’s assembly of both the A380 and A320 aircraft.

Enders, who led Airbus from 2012 to 2019, is an experienced helicopter pilot and passionate skydiver and has served as a major in the reserves of Germany’s airborne army division.