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German eVTOL developer Lilium, in partnership with Tavistock Development Group, has committed to invest approximately $25 million to develop what may be the first vertiport in the United States intended for passenger eVTOL transportation. Located in Orlando, Florida, the development will serve as Lilium’s first hub for a high-speed electric air mobility network — and a test of its regional air mobility model that will be carefully watched around the globe.
Home to Disney World, Orlando is one of many tourist attractions scattered throughout Florida. The state has long struggled to improve connectivity between its major cities and destinations, a problem that will worsen as the state of 21 million expects to add 4 million to its population by the end of the decade.
In 2014, construction began on Brightline, a high-speed passenger rail project between Miami and Orlando — the first such private investment in the U.S. in over a century. Its investors, and other real estate developers, began significant revitalization efforts in the downtowns of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and other cities along the planned rail route. Through these development efforts and the significant existing tourism industry along Florida’s eastern coast, Brightline hopes to exemplify how private passenger rail can succeed in the United States.
Enter Lilium. One of the best-funded competitors in the eVTOL space, Lilium has positioned itself as a provider of regional air mobility, connecting cities in a region rather than regions of a megacity. With its Lilium Jet targeting a 186-mile (300-kilometer) useful range at a speed of 186 mph for five passengers, the company believes air mobility over a longer distance will prove more useful than the intra-city approach, championed by Uber, of shorter hops over gridlocked traffic.
On Nov. 9, during a meeting of the Orlando City Council, Lilium struck a deal to receive up to $831,250 in economic development-related tax incentives to develop its first vertiport, justified by the anticipated creation of 140 jobs with an average salary of $66,451, which is above 125 percent of the average annual salary in Orange County.
Built in partnership with Tavistock Development Company, Lilium’s vertiport will be located in downtown Lake Nona, a wealthy, rapidly-growing planned community in the suburbs of Orlando. The exact location is about a 10-minute drive from Orlando International Airport (MCO), which Lilium cites as “the origination site of more than half of the region’s 75 million annual visitors.”
The vertiport itself will have two landing pads and eight gates for aircraft charging, able to accommodate “hundreds of thousands of passengers per year,” according to Lilium chief operating officer Remo Gerber.
“At launch, the price point is probably going to be more of a business-class type of trip, comparable to a flight from Orlando to Miami in business class; in some countries, you would compare it to first-class rail,” Gerber said during a press conference announcing the vertiport project. “Over time, we’re very committed to making it more and more affordable as a mode of transportation . . . five to 10 years post-launch, it is entirely conceivable that it might come to a price point similar to driving your own car.”
Orlando has been following developments in the eVTOL space for over three years, according to Matthew Broffman, the city’s director of innovation. While cities along the Brightline rail route are hopeful it will be an economic boon for their region, the astronomical cost of rail construction severely limits its application. That’s where Lilium’s regional air mobility is viewed as a complementary solution.
“Our strategy, under Mayor Buddy Dyer’s leadership, has been understanding what value eVTOL brings to our residents and our visitors and finding the right partners to pursue those goals,” Broffman told eVTOL.com. “As a polycentric region with various activity centers, connectivity has been a challenge we’ve faced for decades. Lilium’s project brings an opportunity to connect Orlando to other Florida cities, which in turn would extend economic activity across the state and allow for regional tourism opportunities.”
When Covid 19 subsides I would love to travel on Lillium on future visits to Florida ~ subject to thorough testing and certification.
Neither the time table or cost estimates are realistic to mention just a couple of issues with this plan. Certification and operating standards for these type of aircraft have not been totally developed at this point. Not saying this won’t ever happen, it just will not happen on the time table stated. Similar plans using helicopters have been tried in the past. Even with federal subsidies they failed because cost could not be justified.
Most Americans drive and love their autos. Heliports, not quite dead on arrival, but close enough. Americans will want to take their evtols home to their garages; count and bet on it. Europeans not looking at the American market; more foolishness. How many people ride buses in the US? 20% of the population, maybe 30%. And replacing small air carrier with evtols is highly unlikely considering the cost advantage of a small commercial aircraft and the chance of an evtol being competitive is nearly nil. Who will wake up these fools wanting evtols to replace small commercial aircraft in America? Or it must be safe to assume they are leaving the US outside of their market. But why Orlando, then? I can only assume they want to confirm what most Americans already know; and will go elsewhere. And nothing will ever compete with the cost of a bus anywhere and probably not with a taxi either; meaning short hops for commercial evtols are out of the economic question for the lowest 30% of the American population. Replacing and expanding on helicopter markets? Perhaps, but no money or no investment there. So another dead end. Too many European dead ends in this article. Wall Street is going to figuratively slaughter these people with their non investment ideas.
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