The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Lilium Targets Premium Private Travelers Through eVTOL Alliance with NetJets

The Lilium Jet eVTOL aircraft—which represents a mode of transportation widely billed as a force for democratizing air travel—might not seem like an obvious fit for NetJets' private aviation service. But recent discussions between the company that introduced the world to fractional ownership of aircraft and the eVTOL pioneer convinced Lilium to shift its business model from one entirely founded on rideshare shuttle flights booked on an app toward some more exclusive options.

Last week, NetJets agreed to add 150 Lilium Jets to its fleet of high-end business aircraft. Under a memorandum of understanding, the U.S.-based group has secured purchase rights for the all-electric model, which could be operated by NetJets and its affiliates. The aircraft is expected to enter service in 2024, offering a range of 155 miles at speeds of up to 174 mph.

On Tuesday, Lilium also announced that it will partner with FlightSafety International for pilot training. The company, which like NetJets is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment group, will provide courseware, mixed reality training devices, and crew training.

Lilium and NetJets expect to firm up the terms of their memorandum of understanding (MoU) by the end of this year, to more precisely specify how their partnership will work. Lilium vice-chairman Alex Asseily told FutureFlight that NetJets will likely offer fractional shares in the aircraft, which will now be offered with a more spacious club-four cabin configuration as an alternative to the standard six-seater.

The manufacturer is also open to selling aircraft to high-net-worth clients, but on the condition that they are operated under management contracts by NetJets. Block-charter arrangements, in which customers purchase cards guaranteeing a certain number of flight hours at a fixed rate, are also under consideration.

Lilium is resolved that it doesn’t want to take on the risk of having individual owner-pilots flying themselves in the new eVTOL vehicle. It sees an alliance with an established business aviation player like NetJets as a way to widen its potential market without compromising on its goals for operational integrity and safety.

The MoU also envisages NetJets operating some or all of the shuttle flights Lilium is planning to offer through networks of 10 vertiports being developed with airports group Ferrovial across central and south Florida. Early routes are likely to include Miami to West Palm Beach, across the Orlando metropolitan area, and between Tampa and Orlando.

In theory, discussions with NetJets about an operating partnership could extend to Europe and other markets. Last year, Lilium signed a partnership agreement with Europe-based business aircraft operator and services group Luxaviation, and it says that it could end up with multiple operating partners to make its new business model work.

“We were attracted to NetJets because they do things to a very high standard and they could help us develop some routes and also to play in their fractional ownership program,” Asseily commented. “We think the private aviation sector could be a very interesting segment, especially for early adopters [of eVTOL aircraft].”

Lilium also envisages the potential for NetJets to use its ducted-fan, fixed-wing aircraft to provide services that carry its fractional ownership clients from off-airport sites to airports where they would connect with longer flights in larger aircraft. “We’re delighted to partner with Lilium’s experienced team to provide sustainable flight services to our customers,” said NetJets CEO Adam Johnson. “Lilium’s aircraft will expand our fleet options and provide our customers with a new and flexible means of private air travel.”

According to Asseily, the move to introduce club-four seating is “a logical progression to avoid the need for private owners to have three rows of seats and have more of a premium experience.” Lilium intends to deliver the aircraft with standardized cabin interiors, rather than allowing customers to take "green" aircraft to their own completions contractors to have highly customized cabins installed. The aircraft will be flown by a single pilot and the manufacturer is now laying plans for larger versions with between 10 and 15 seats.

“This partnership is a major step in our mission to build radically better ways of moving and to electrify regional air travel,” said Lilium CEO and cofounder Daniel Wiegand. “We believe that private and business professional segments will be highly attractive markets in the future and, likewise, early adopters of the eVTOL revolution."

In a letter to shareholders on February 28, Lilium reported that following a preliminary design review conducted in the fourth quarter of 2021, it is reducing the number of electric ducted fans for the Lilium Jet from 36 to 30. The company said that this change has been made possible by using a slightly larger and more powerful engine design, and will reduce the parts count, weight, and system complexity, as well as improving the aerodynamic balance between the main wing and canards. It added that the decision should also result in reduced maintenance costs and support design flexibility for future eVTOL models.

Lilium reported that its total cash spending for the fiscal year ending on December 31, 2021, was slightly above projections at $217 million and that it expects spending in the first three months of this year to be somewhat below earlier projections. The company said that, based on ongoing evaluations of its program and launch timeline, it will provide an update on the next phase of the program after the end of the first quarter.