Why Florida residents may soon be seeing jet-powered 'flying taxis'

Florida is renowned for its strange news stories. In recent weeks alone, one resident reported an alligator in her garage that turned out to be a pool floatie; another discovered a python in her washing machine; and a horse needed to be pulled out of a septic tank by firefighters.

Still, don’t dismiss Orlando residents who report seeing flying taxis overhead because they may just be coming. Lilium Aviation, a five-year-old, Munich, Germany-based startup that designs and makes electric vertical take-off and landing jets, is reportedly seeking tax incentives from the city to build a 56,000-square-foot transportation hub with the promise that it will create 100 high-wage jobs in return.

According to the Orlando Business Sentinel, the proposed facility — a takeoff and landing area that would be part of Lilium’s first transportation network in the U.S. — would represent a $25 million investment and, according to the city’s own estimates, generate $1.7 million in economic impact in a 10-year period. (Lilium in September began separately exploring with Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport and Cologne Bonn Airport  how to turn the two airports into regional air mobility hubs.)

It’s probably a smart time for Lillium — whose planes aren’t expected to be up and running until 2025 — to be talking with cities about additional airport revenue. Passenger traffic has fallen through the floor, owing to the pandemic, and cargo traffic has not been immune, either. Meanwhile, 95% of revenue from airports comes aeronautical and non-aeronautical services.

Lilium also has a little more spending money, after raising $35 million in fresh funding in June led by Baillie Gifford, the largest investor in Tesla, a round that brought the company’s total funding to date to $375 million.

Earlier investors in the company include Atomico, Tencent Holdings and Freigeist.

We sat down with Atomico founder Niklas Zennström in when the firm had just led a €10 million Series A in Lilium, a bet that seemed early at the time despite the existence already of rivals like Terrafugia and AeroMobile, yet that may be a reality fairly soon. Indeed, there are now at least 15 flying ‘cars’ and ‘taxis” in development.

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