Lilium, a German start-up, illustrates the potential and the risks of creating a new generation of electric aircraft for urban transportation.

Inside an airplane hangar about 30km from central Munich, Daniel Wiegand lifted the door of a prototype that he said would become one of the world's first flying taxis. He's coy about how much it cost to build — "several million," he says — but promises that within five years a fleet of them could provide a 10-minute trip from Manhattan to Kennedy International Airport for US$70 ($110).

A lot is riding on his plane. Wiegand, 34, is the

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