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Archer Aviation has United Airlines. Joby Aviation has Delta Air Lines. And now Lilium has UrbanLink Air Mobility.

The German manufacturer of the world’s first electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) jet on Monday announced a firm order for 20 aircraft from UrbanLink, a U.S. eVTOL operator formed in March by aviation entrepreneur Ed Wegel, the founder and CEO of charter airline GlobalX.

Notably, the agreement—which includes another 20 purchase options—sets scheduled predelivery payments between the partners. UrbanLink intends to operate the manufacturer’s flagship Lilium Jet out of planned vertiports in South Florida, with the goal of forming a regional air taxi network by 2026.

The initial network will span Miami, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and Marco Island, Lilium says.

The collaboration represents a major boost to Lilium’s efforts to serve the Florida market, which has long been in its crosshairs. UrbanLink claims to be the first airline in the U.S. fully committed to integrating eVTOL aircraft into its fleet, giving the manufacturer a crucial operational partner it previously lacked.

“While many airlines have discussed the potential of operating eVTOL aircraft, none have made a definitive commitment,” said Wegel. “UrbanLink will be the first airline in the U.S. to integrate eVTOL aircraft into its fleet…After thorough evaluation of various manufacturers, we found the Lilium Jet to be the optimal choice for our needs, thanks to its superior cabin design, range, capacity, and cost-effectiveness.”

Fellow eVTOL air taxi manufacturer Archer Aviation has a similar relationship with United Airlines, which in 2022 paid $10 million out of its $1 billion deal for the purchase of up to 100 aircraft. Joby Aviation, which intends to operate its eVTOL itself, received a $60 million equity investment from partner Delta Air Lines, also in 2022.

“This is a huge milestone, not only for Lilium, but for the commercialization of eVTOLs in the U.S.,” said Sebastien Borel, chief commercial officer of Lilium. “We believe that this purchase of eVTOL aircraft is the first by a commercial operator that isn’t invested in the manufacturer that it is purchasing from. This is a sign that the market for eVTOL aircraft has matured, and there is growing demand for aircraft that can provide connections between, rather than just within, cities.”

Wegel—who led FAA certification for two U.S. Part 135 airlines and several U.S. Part 121 carriers, including Eastern Air Lines’ fleet of Boeing 737-800s in just eight months—founded UrbanLink as a standalone venture in March.

The industry veteran envisions Miami, Los Angeles, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as the company’s early markets. It will then expand internationally beginning with the United Arab Emirates, which is rapidly becoming an eVTOL hot spot.

UrbanLink will provide the aircraft, pilots, and other systems needed to run the airline.

The firm picked the Lilium Jet for its fleet due in part to its quiet operation. The aircraft employs a unique fan-in-wing configuration, with 36 electric ducted fans embedded in its fixed wings. Compared to other eVTOL concepts, the design sacrifices efficiency in hover for a significant reduction in noise and improvement in cruise efficiency, where it will spend up to 95 percent of its time.

Since 2020, Lilium has worked with the city of Orlando and other stakeholders to build a regional air mobility (RAM) ecosystem for its eVTOL jet in Florida. Unlike Archer and Joby, which are focused on shorter urban air mobility (UAM) routes, Lilium expects its aircraft to fly between cities, cruising at 162 knots on trips spanning 25 to 125 sm (22 to 109 nm). That range is another factor that garnered UrbanLink’s interest.

Fractional aircraft ownership company NetJets in 2022 became a Lilium partner, signing a memorandum of understanding to purchase 150 aircraft which it will operate within the Florida network. Vertiports, under development at locations such as Orlando International Airport (KMCO), will function as hubs for the service.

Vertical flight services provider Bristow Group will provide maintenance services across the network, while FlightSafety International has agreed to train an initial group of Florida eVTOL pilots.

However, adding an airline partner makes the company’s plans seem much more feasible.

In addition, the German manufacturer has a partnership with Atlantic Aviation to electrify more than 100 FBO terminals nationwide. The sites—30 of which are within Lilium target markets such as Florida, Texas, and Southern California—will be transformed to accommodate its seven-seat eVTOL jet.

Lilium expects the first piloted Lilium Jet flight test to occur in late 2024, with European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certification in 2025. FAA certification, via the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement between the two regulators, would follow shortly after. Lilium remains the only eVTOL manufacturer with certification bases on both sides of the Atlantic.

UrbanLink expects to begin the FAA certification process in late 2025, with commercial service launching by summer 2026.

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The post Lilium Receives Order for 20 eVTOL Jets, Forms Operational Partnership in U.S. appeared first on FLYING Magazine.

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