Alastair McIntosh has an impressive background. Before joining Lilium in December 2020 as the company’s CTO, he had worked at Rolls-Royce for over 33 years, starting as a design engineer, then moving up the ranks to Chief Design Engineer and Chief Engineer followed by being appointed in 2015 as a Managing Director, Director of Engineering & Technology and Chief Engineer of Business Aviation.
Chris Stonor Asks The Questions.
Recently, you successfully completed the first two ‘Design Organisational Audits’ (DOA) for EASA. What is the time period to complete the third and fourth ones?
To offer context, this process is EASA’s Part-21 Subpart-J where we must demonstrate to the regulator the general ability of the Lilium organisation. To gain full certification, as part of this process, you must prove to EASA, the procedures and competencies of the company to do the job.
Traditionally, there are four audits. We are now half-way through this process. The first is about how the organisation has been set up including the structure that covers safety aspects, training and abilities of the staff.
The second is looking at the core fundamentals like the design process, configuration, management as well as a more in-depth look at safety. The third one which should be completed by the end of this year, is focussed on a demonstration of compliance to the regulations like validation and verification.
And the fourth and final process will come at the end of 2024 towards gaining full certification. This runs parallel with the general program. Overall, it shows EASA that your company is running in a rigorous and controlled manner.
The FAA has said recently it is modifying its certification process for eVTOLs, some say, to make it more difficult to gain full certification. Will this affect Lilium?
Being European-based, EASA is our primary regulator. We work closely with them. There is concurrent validation through EASA with the FAA, a bi-lateral aviation safety agreement in-place, which we are a part of.
The two regulatory authorities approach is somewhat different. EASA from the outset has introduced new and set regulations under the term SC-VTOL or Special Condition Vertical Take-off and Landing. There is also a set for the electric hybrid propulsion systems or SC E-19. These two groups of regulations are distinctive for EASA.
The FAA approach has taken each applicant on a case-by-case performance based on the Part-23 regulations for light aircraft and then added special conditions relevant to the applicant.
In your view, which is the easiest approach to gain full certification?
There are different views. Both approaches are very rigorous. The FAA regulations are well-established, but recently they’ve questioned their appropriateness, especially around power-lift systems. More details about the proposed modifications must come out before we can see where the FAA are going with this. So it is difficult to comment, but for Lilium we remain with a clear approach from EASA. It is important in the early stages to have clarity and a strong agreement with the regulator you’re working with.
Recently, we submitted a full set of our proposed means of compliance. This is crucial for any eVTOL company as it lays out the program ahead of you. For example, we have just completed our preliminary design review and are progressing through this.
Lilium 7-Seater Aircraft (Computer Graphic)
Does the two DOAs cover the 7 seater Lilium Jet?
It is an organisational approval, therefore it covers all our aircraft. It asks the question, “is your organisation fit for purpose?” This allows you to move forward with design, certification, different types of aircraft, in particular, the five-seater we are bringing to market.
I note you’ve mentioned bringing a 10 to 15 seater to market up-the-road?
We have a lot of flexibility with our cabin configuration and design. This is appealing to the market and helped attract NetJets to sign an MOU with us. This cabin flexibility can lead to either a four, five, six or even seven seater shuttle or a four seater club cabin arrangement. This is one of the advantages we have over the competition.
Last month you had 37 new patent applications published of which 70 percent concern energy and propulsion. Can you offer a few examples?
It was great to put this information into the public domain. Until you protect your intellectual property, you need to be guarded and, as a company, we like to be as transparent as possible.
At the heart of our work is the propulsion arrangement. The duct electric vector thrust system. This is key to our future success. Also, how we integrate our 30 engines with the flight controls. And then the battery system itself and how we arrange this. So, we focus a lot on what is unique to Lilium and how we can secure our future. There are more patents coming down the pipeline.
Of the 37, is there one that stands out for you?
It has to be the propulsion system. This is really quite unique given the way it’s embedded into the aircraft. One system is quite simple, but two are real enablers. We combine thrust and control within the same unit. This is the big difference between us and our competitors. You tend to see open rotors in the marketplace. Our system contains everything within the duct electric fan. Even our flight controls and thrust reside within that one unit.
Is this how your passenger cost per mile is cheaper than your competition?. On record you have stated USD2.25 cost per mile compared with between USD3 USD4 for your competitors? How can you achieve this lower rate?
The passenger cabin capacity has a lot to do with this. Although, clearly since this number was published the world has moved on. We’ve had the Covid pandemic. Now we are moving into an interesting economic world with rising inflation and the like. To repeat, it is down to the cabin capacity. You need to speak with our business guys for a financial update.
So your cabin flexibility is the primary reason?
Exactly. It makes for better economics.
Moving on to Spain and the ATLAS Flight Test Centre in Villacarrillo, Jaen. You have been very active there in recent months with a series of trials. How have these tests been going and what lessons are you learning?
They’ve been going really well. We are super happy. We have been flying almost every day. The focus has been on envelope expansion and flying at higher speeds. Going through the perceived difficult flight phase, of transitioning from hover to forward flight. This has always been one of the trickiest areas to work with in vertical take-off and landing. The aircraft has behaved as expected.
We regularly put out on social media updates on our progress including videos, to keep our investors and followers interested. We have already flown 120 kilometres forward speed, and will keep increasing this. We are seeing better lift on the main wing. That’s a critical part. Moving away from the power lift to the forward flight. Above all, the craft is flying very smoothly. There are no hiccups. We are really chuffed by the progress being made.
Lilium’s ‘Phoenix 2’ Demonstrator Prepares for Trials in Spain
Is the craft living up to expectations?
Indeed. It is performing very very well. This particular Phoenix 2 aircraft is a technology demonstrator, so we’ll keep pushing the boundaries and keep learning from it, while validating our modelling. Meanwhile, the flight controls being tested are to become the cornerstone of what we’ll be using for our certification and production aircraft. As I speak, the Phoenix 3 is in transit to Spain for summer trials.
Sum up where Lilium is right now.
Today, it is about the progression of the production design and moving towards certification. More importantly, it is soon about releasing the design definition to our manufacturing partners. This is quite significant. That allows us to progress to the first prototype which we should see at the back end of 2023. This paves the way to 2024 and a flight test program that will last between 15 and 18 months leading to full certification and commercial flights in 2025.
Lilium is steadily maturing and progressing whether it is our battery technology or flight control. Our 700+ team are doing a magnificent job. They are a great bunch of diverse and talented people.
Lilium is in great shape moving into the future.