Behind the scenes of future electric airports
Lilium’s Head of Specs and Architecture Riko Sebbe talks us through the company’s answer to aviation of the future
The next wave of electric aviation, big and small, is aimed at speeding us up as well as reducing emissions. However, new infrastructure is needed if it’s to make serious in-roads into our cities and re-shape our habits. Lilium have forged their reputation on an upcoming autonomous eVTOL jet, explicitly designed for urban and suburban operations. But while renders and prototypes of futuristic-looking machines tend to garner the most interest, what’s going on behind the scenes matters so much more.
Riko Sebbe is head of specs and architecture at Lilium, tasked with working out how the company’s Jet can be integrated into the existing landscape. The answer is the ‘vertiport’, an infrastructure system that can be tailor-made for every conceivable of location. Sebbe suggests that the smallest Vertiports could be built for less than €2 million, with the larger structures designed to sit atop buildings, would top out at around €15 million. Lilium promise their Jet will be substantially quieter than current helicopters, another factor it has in its favour.
Ultimately, the Jet is intended as a time-saver, and any terminal structure is designed to get passengers processed and into the five-seater, all-electric, multi-engined craft. Should the age of flying taxis ever get off the ground, Lilium’s low-key, high-speed Vertiport concept could make them a major player. We spoke to Sebbe about the company’s ambitious plans.
Wallpaper*: The first designs for urban airports date back to the pre VTOL days, but similar issues have always precluded them – cost, safety, noise, etc. How will Lilium’s vertiport be different?
Riko Sebbe: The Lilium vertiports will be different from its predecessors thanks to its modular design. This will allow us to build vertiports more affordably and in a less invasive manner, while still being able to tailor each one around the needs and limitations of each location, including passenger demand, available space, and other community concerns. Much like today’s heliports, future vertiports will have an area specifically dedicated to take-off and landing, surrounded by a safety zone like in a heliport. We continue to work closely with regulators and other industry players to tailor this guidance more directly to eVTOL operations in the future.
W*: Which markets would be the most appropriate to debut this kind of project?
RS: While we haven’t announced the markets in which we first plan to launch just yet, we believe that a number of cities and countries around the world can benefit from affordable, high-speed transport that will allow people to do more with their time while also reducing their environmental impact on the world. In addition to the Lilium Jet being a completely electric form of transport, it will require significantly less infrastructure compared to traditional forms of transport like buses, trains and taxis that require roads, rails and highways which can be costly to the environment. In comparison, the only piece of infrastructure required by the Lilium Jet will be a single vertiport at each point.
W*: Clearly a lot of the emphasis here is on the spatial separation of craft and passengers. Is the Lilium better suited to suburban rather than urban situations?
RS: Our focus is on regional air mobility or the connections between cities and within regions, so it was important that the design of the vertiports could suit both suburban and urban environments. We believe that the lean, modular design of the Lilium vertiports allows us to achieve that balance. Developers will be able to place vertiports at existing transport terminals, next to shopping centers, on top of busy car parks or even alongside a suburban residential development, easily and affordably. Having said that, we believe that current aviation regulations will continue to apply in 2025, so despite public imagination, it’s likely that urban air mobility will be limited to specific areas within a city.
W*: Are there any architectural design elements that reflect the design of the craft itself?
RS: The design of the Lilium Jet and its vertiports is based on the same principles – simplicity, efficiency and optimal performance. The design of the Lilium Jet is inspired by simplicity – it has no tail, no rudder, no propellers, no gearbox and only one moving part in the engine to allow for greater efficiency. In much the same way, the design of our vertiport is simple and focused on what our passengers care about – getting from point A to point B quickly and efficiently.§