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Tencent reaches for the sky by investing in 'flying taxi' firm

Updated: 2017-09-07 07:32

FRANKFURT-Lilium has raised a second $90 million round of financing from top tech investors as it moves ahead to develop a five-seater "flying taxi".

The German start-up has Silicon Valley-scale ambitions and is one of the best-funded electric aircraft projects to date after attracting the attention of Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Last year, Lilium received $11.4 million in funding and has emerged as one of Europe's hottest startups for attempting to solve hard physics problems for a new category of small vertical takeoff jets.

The company announced a new funding round on Tuesday, led by Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Other key investors are LGT Group, the largest family-owned investment firm in Europe; Atomico, a top European venture capital firm; and Obvious Ventures, whose co-founder, Evan Williams, was also involved in Twitter.

In April, Lilium revealed it was developing a five-seater "flying taxi" after mounting successful test flights of a twos-eater jet.

The version was capable of a mid-air transition from hover mode, like drones, to wing-borne flight, like conventional aircraft.

Wing-borne, electric-powered flight allows commuter aircraft to travel five or six times the distance of drones, Lilium stated.

A 20-kilometer trip from Manhattan to JFK Airport in New York would take as little as five minutes, the company estimated.

"The concept goes far beyond what you typically see from German startups," said Remo Gerber, the former European managing director of online taxi firm Gett, who was named Lilium's chief commercial officer last month.

Its ambitions put it more in line with companies such as Tesla Inc or Google than the e-commerce apps, which currently dominate the startup scene in Berlin.

Lilium plans to use the fresh funding to dramatically expand hiring to carry it through the next development stages of its five-seater electric jet.

This will buy it time to meet stringent regulatory approvals.

With a staff of 70, the company has roughly as many openings as current employees, and plans to scale up hiring, Gerber pointed out.


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