Bradley Pearson – Lilium
It takes some doing to get this aircraft off the ground, both from an engineering and commercial standpoint.
Bradley Pearson defers the engineering to others while tending to the commercial side as senior legal counsel for Lilium, the German-headquartered aerospace company that anticipates bringing to market its cutting-edge hybrid of small private jets and helicopters in 2026.
In the new industry vernacular, it’s called an eVTOL—an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft – for a pilot to shuttle as many as six passengers between congested cities or to and from vacation homes in the Hamptons, south Florida, or wherever. This new technology is also expected to be used to quickly transport emergency patients to the hospital and efficiently transport freight quickly over shorter distances.
“There’s really no limit to the possibilities,” Pearson tells Vanguard in December. “Our aircraft has the potential to revolutionize the industry.”
A unique aircraft it is, the eVTOL juiced by electricity instead of pricier fuel and, lacking larger open rotating blades, it is designed to be quieter than a helicopter. Appearance-wise, think of a supersized drone with serrated knives for wings. Others might see a mutated dragonfly on steroids or an updated model of George Jetson’s means of conveyance in the futuristic cartoon from the 1960s.
Whatever its public perception, there’ll be ground and flight tests this year that Pearson says should position the eVTOL for certification on both sides of The Pond by late 2025 and, shortly afterward, commercialization. According to him, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency—the EU equivalent of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration—is well into its review, and everything seems to be progressing satisfactorily.
“We’ve been impressed with how proactive they (EASA) have been working with us and other manufacturers to certify eVTOL aircraft,” Pearson says. “There’s an EU push to decarbonize short aviation and make it more sustainable. They want these planes certified for safety, and soon.”
While Pearson collaborates with his legal colleagues on Lilium’s regulatory and intellectual properties sides, most of his responsibilities are in the buying, selling and financing. As the main commercial attorney since his hiring in June 2022, he’s drafting sales agreements that include flight training for pilots used to more conventional aircraft.
Lilium anticipates that many of its landing sites will be located at current helipads; Pearson and the team at Lilium are in frequent discussions with prospective customers regarding how to retrofit existing helipads with electric chargers and other upgrades to enable use by eVTOL aircraft. Airports also factoring in the game plan, he says the company sees Florida as ripe for such initial partnerships. He’s also helping raise capital for the Nasdaq-listed company and wooing prospective venture capitalists who understand this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme but a calculated long-term investment with the moral backing of sustainability advocates, of whom Pearson is one.
“This new aircraft design opens a plethora of issues or opportunities,” he says. “Mostly opportunities, and we can be very imaginative with our partners. Everything’s so collaborative—internally and externally.”
He’s also having the time of his professional life in his first in-house role that followed a nearly eight-year stretch with the global heavyweight Milbank’s offices in the Big Apple. At Milbank Pearson, it was focused primarily on transportation financing for the airline, railroad, and satellite industries.
“I loved Milbank but wanted to be on the other side of the transactions,” Pearson says. “I wanted to be invested, to get equity and help grow a project from the ground up—literally. That excited me more than an established company like GE or Boeing. I wanted to go somewhere still in its early-stage growth.”
Easy landing here
The 37-year-old Pearson has found it at Lilium, a company that’s only been around since 2015 but stands to be an aerospace disruptor. While manufacturing occurs at a sprawling site near Munich, much of the legal team is U.S.-based, and Pearson says the next couple of years should see the reaching of multiple milestones. For him, the satisfaction is as personal as professional.
“Throughout my career, I have been driven by my passion for treating the world well and caring for the environment,” says Pearson.
He got off to a good start, raising and schooling on Quaker values before enrolling at Amherst College in Western Massachusetts, where Pearson graduated in 2008 with political science and geology degrees. He furthered those interests at the University of Chicago Law School, where he headed its Environmental Law Society. Upon earning his law degree in 2014, he began his Milbank tenure that afforded Pearson more opportunity to enhance his environmental creds through its pro bono fellowship for first-year lawyers.
Pearson logged those three months at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Later, he spent a year with Credit Suisse, helping it launch an aircraft finance and trading division. That, along with his other roles in financing big-ticket mobility clientele, made for a natural transition to him going in-house with Lilium and being able to move back to the D.C. area where he and his wife are from.
And it’s quite the dynamic industry that Lilium’s in, it being one of around a half-dozen leaders in eVTOL. All are in the flight-testing stage, and while there’s competition, Pearson says there’s shared interest in getting this industry airborne.
There’s certainly much demand, with well-to-do people wanting to make their private travel more enjoyable—and sustainable. While other eVTOL innovators primarily focus on urban air mobility, essentially flying taxis within a city, Lilium focuses on a different market: RAM for regional air mobility for flights between roughly 50 and 500 miles.
Pearson reckons Lilium is well on its way to commercialization, and his to-do list is a mad rush to that first passenger flight come 2026. Recently, the company began constructing MSN (manufacturer’s serial number) 1, which will be one of the aircraft it uses to certify its first aircraft type. It’s all systems go.
So, Pearson is asked: Given your fascination with everything aerospace, how excited is he to fly in eVTOL?
“I think we’re all pretty excited about the future of avivation and the impact our company is having on aerospace,” he says. “And yeah, I’m looking forward to taking my first eVTOL flight.”
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