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Lilium has partnered with multinational infrastructure operator Ferrovial to build out a network of 10-plus vertiports across Florida, expanding on its first planned vertiport development in the suburbs of Orlando announced last fall.
The first location in South Florida will be announced as soon as Spring 2021, according to a Lilium press release, with more to follow as the network expands to cover “strategic locations in all major cities across Florida.”
“Our strategy to bring high-speed transportation networks to an entire region is being brought to life in Florida, and Ferrovial is the ideal partner with their unrivalled expertise in airport construction and operations around the globe,” said Dr. Remo Gerber, chief operating officer at Lilium. “Nearly all 20 million Floridians will live within 30 minutes of our vertiports and the 140 million annual visitors to the Sunshine State will have a high-speed option available to travel to their destinations.”
Ferrovial, an infrastructure operator headquartered in Spain with $10 billion in U.S. assets, conducted scenario planning exercises and concluded urban air mobility was one of four disruptive technologies the company needed to anticipate, along with hyperloop, urban logistics and connected autonomous vehicles. In December, the company signed an agreement with HyperloopTT to study the operation, maintenance and potential routes for the new technology, which uses a magnetic levitation and a linear electric motor in a reduced pressure tube pathway to achieve high speeds with minimal energy use.
Two years ago, Ferrovial approached Lilium to analyze potential joint venture opportunities in the U.S. and UK, Rafael Fernandez, director of innovation at Ferrovial, told eVTOL.com.
“We decided to approach them two years back to analyze together impacts on Heathrow Airport and opportunities outside airports,” Fernandez said. “We decided that building a network in the U.S. would be the more attractive option, allowing us to think big in the future. We’re an infrastructure company, so we are not the ones to develop an aircraft or jet, but we have a big ambition to be the infrastructure partner for those kinds of companies — Lilium and the rest.”
Ferrovial is the largest shareholder in Heathrow Airport Holdings with a 25 percent stake. The company is also a limited partner in UK-based venture fund Atomico, which led Lilium’s Series A investment round and has continued to participate in funding rounds since then, as well as a long-term collaborator with MIT’s Energy Initiative.
Fernandez said the deal with Lilium will be “like a joint venture,” with Lilium operating the airline and Ferrovial managing the hub, making the company responsible for many of the elements necessary to ensure a clean multi-modal customer journey and positive user experience with eVTOLs.
“I think we need fully automated hubs with as little friction as possible for passengers. This is about user experience and attracting demand,” Fernandez said. “And we believe that enabling technologies like 5G, machine learning data, robotics and automation are going to help in the passenger journey. We really care about this.”
In November, Lilium announced Lake Nona — a wealthy planned community in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida — as its first U.S. vertiport location in partnership with Tavistock Development Group. That project is proceeding as planned, a representative for Tavistock confirmed to eVTOL.com, though a nearby backup site has been selected to provide the Federal Aviation Administration with options considering the proximity to Orlando International Airport (MCO).