Former Airbus CEO joins electric-flight startup Lilium

Updated: Feb 3

Airbus former chief executive officer (CEO) Tom Enders has become the latest aviation stalwart to throw his weight behind the future of flight, joining the board of German startup Lilium.

Mr Enders, an industry veteran with almost three decades of experience, spent seven years at the helm of planemaker Airbus before stepping down in 2019.

Lilium impressed him with its focus on clean-energy intercity flights, strong partners and a close relationship with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, according to a statement on Monday.

Lilium was founded in 2015 and aims to operate an all-electric five-seater flying taxi. It has agreed deals with airports at Düsseldorf and Cologne Bonn in Europe and with Orlando, Florida, to open transportation hubs.

The company became a unicorn, or a startup that is valued at more than US$1 billion, after raising US$275 million across two rounds last year from investors including Tencent Holdings and later Baillie Gifford & Co.

"Tom obviously brings massive experience from some of the largest global aerospace programmes and running one of the two biggest aerospace companies," Lilium CEO Daniel Wiegand said in an interview.

Mr Enders joins a long list of aviation executives crossing the floor from major aerospace companies to startups as the race to fly sustainably powered aircraft heats up.

The mounting climate crisis has put pressure on the entire industry to move toward cleaner flights, giving startups, with their shorter development timelines, a rare advantage over established aerospace firms.

In turn, experienced hands bring startups expertise in everything from supplier connections to regulatory bureaucracy, while their presence also adds credibility as they try to raise cash.