Lilium is latest eVTOL company to change leadership as certification looms

Lilium eVTOL

It is said that once is an accident, twice a coincidence, while thrice is a trend. That may now apply to recent leadership changes at top electric takeoff and landing (eVTOL) plane manufacturers working toward craft certification ­– the latest occurring at Germany’s Lilium.

Munich-based eVTOL developer Lilium announced that former Airbus executive Klaus Roewe has been picked to assume the CEO position in replacement of longtime boss Daniel Wiegand, who remains with the company as a board member and chief engineer for innovation and future programs. The company said the objective of the switch is “accelerating (our) next phase of product delivery and business” expansion.

But the moves at Lilium also may reflect growing pains of maturing eVTOL companies more generally.

Many of those are now transitioning from years of conceiving and developing theoretical craft into prototypes, and toward the fast paces, high demands, and formidable hurdles in obtaining certification, scaling production, and launching services. The shifting pressures and business visions involved in that may have factored into recent top executive changes at fellow German company Volocopter, and California’s Archer.

Read moreArcher cofounder resigns as its eVTOL air taxi pursues certification 

Time will tell whether that trio of managerial events remains limited to a mini-trend, or broadens within shifting business pressures that may inspire next generation aircraft makers to introduce veterans and strategies from the traditional aviation sector among the visionary founders and developers who nurtured their projects this far.

There seems to be some of that thinking at work in Lilium’s case, with Roewe taking over August 1 from cofounder Wiegand as the eVTOL maker continues working toward certification to enable its planned launch of services in 2024.

“We believe adding Klaus as CEO will give us unparalleled executional leadership to complement Lilium’s innovative DNA as we continue the development of the Lilium Jet and advance towards Type Certification and scale production,” said Lilium chairman Tom Enders, noting Roewe’s 30 years of experience at Airbus across a variety of its business units. “Klaus has a breadth of operational experience that is very rare in our industry.”

Almost certainly not coincidentally, Enders is also a former Airbus manager – its chief executive for over half a decade, no less. That suggests Roewe’s recruitment could mean Lilium and other eVTOL startups preparing for launch may now feel they need the steely nerves, sharper elbows, and growling directives that veterans of the no-hostages-taken traditional aircraft industry can provide.

After all, changes at Volocopter ushered in former Airbus manager Dirk Hoke to take over from longtime CEO Florian Reuter. When Archer’s cofounder and co-CEO Brett Adcock left the company last month, his initial tweet – since deleted – mentioned diverging visions within an executive structure increasingly populated by officials from investor and partnerUnited Airlines.

ReadVolocopter CEO Florian Reuter to hand over direction to ex-Airbus Defense & Space boss Dirk Hoke 

Unlike Adcock, displaced managers at Volocopter and Lilium will remain aboard – and continue providing their input ­– as the companies tweak their flight paths to eVTOL certification, business launch, and growth objectives from there. Now that Lilium has made its move in that direction, industry observers will be watching closely whether – and how many – other maturing aviation startups follow suit.

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