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German aviation startup Lilium to float in U.S. via $3.3 billion SPAC deal

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By Douglas Busvine

BERLIN (Reuters) – German air shuttle startup Lilium said on Tuesday it would float on the U.S. stock market via a reverse merger with Qell Acquisition Corp, a blank-cheque acquisition company, in a deal valuing the combined business at $3.3 billion.

Munich-based Lilium is in a race with other aviation companies to deploy battery-powered aircraft that can take off and land vertically, offering a new way for travellers to beat traffic and hop between cities.

It joins U.S. rival Joby in merging with a listed shell company to attract fresh capital at multi-billion-dollar valuations, on top of hefty funding already raised from venture capital backers.

Lilium said the combination with Qell, led by Barry Engle, former president of General Motors North America, would support its objective of launching commercial operations in 2024.

“In Qell, we have found a partner who shares our ambition for sustainable mobility and brings tremendous experience in running mobility and hardware businesses,” Daniel Wiegand, CEO and co-founder of Lilium, said in a statement.

Total gross proceeds are expected to be $830 million, including $380 million held in trust and proceeds from a $450 million private placement.

Investors in the placement include fund manager Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Tencent, Ferrovial, LGT, Palantir, FII Institute, private funds affiliated with PIMCO and Atomico.

NEW SEVEN-SEATER

In addition to its five-seater prototype, the company also unveiled a seven-seater model which it said was the most economically viable for the regional trips that will be its mainstay business.

The seven-seater Lilium Jet will be the first model to go into serial production. It will have a cruising speed of 175 miles per hour (280 kph) and a range of more than 155 miles (250 kilometres).

It received the CRI-A01 certification basis from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency last year.

Lilium rival Joby has already announced plans to go public via a $6.6 billion deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners, a U.S.-listed shell company.

German air taxi startup Volocopter also plans to raise fresh funds, CEO Florian Reuter said this month, adding that a deal to go public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) was one option.

Lilium intends to launch its first network in Florida, where it will site its first Vertiport at Lake Nona, a smart city being built near Orlando International Airport.

The combined company will add Engle to the board, joining current members including Tom Enders, former CEO of Airbus.

JP Morgan and Barclays advised Qell while Citi advised Lilium. The three banks acted as lead placement agents for the private placement.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine, editing by Emma Thomasson and Susan Fenton)

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