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Tencent Backs German Startup’s High-Speed Flying Jet Taxi

(Bloomberg) — With a promise to haul passengers from downtown Manhattan to JFK Airport in just five minutes, flying jet taxi designer Lilium GmbH raised $90 million from investors including Tencent Holdings Ltd.

The Munich-based startup wants to use the money to build a prototype that can seat five people and fly as fast as 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour), after its existing two-seater test model had a successful first flight in April, Chief Commercial Officer Remo Gerber said in an interview.

Improving the way people get around, and leapfrogging some infrastructure spending in regions including Asia, is part of what attracted Tencent to invest in Lilium, Gerber said. Other backers include LGT Group of Lichtenstein, Twitter Inc. co-founder Ev Williams’s Obvious Ventures, and U.K. investor Atomico, bringing the company’s total capital raised to more than $100 million.

“We think our technology could be rapidly adopted in urban areas or between cities — all you need is a landing pad,” Gerber said. “We’re looking for partners who can operate it, at a cost similar to train transport or taxi for passengers.”

While it’s still early days for flying taxis –Gerber estimates it will be several years until Lilium’s jet is ready for mass production– this mode of transportation has attracted investments from Daimler AG in German startup Volocopter GmbH, as well as Airbus SE, which is backing an automated-flight project called Vahana. Still at prototype phase, these technologies will need some regulatory clearance before commercial deployment happens.

More broadly Lilium — which also has backing from the European Space Agency — joins companies such as Seabubbles SAS, a French startup that’s designed a flying water taxi, which are exploring solutions to unclog city traffic and make it easier for people to commute.

Founded in 2015 by a quartet of academics from the Technical University of Munich, Lilium has since hired senior staff from Gett Taxis, Airbus and Tesla Inc. The April test flight program included a mid-air transition from hover mode to wing-borne forward flight.

“What you’re going to see at this point is a lot of concepts based on different technologies — drones, planes, others,” Gerber said.

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