BLADE Urban Air Mobility has expanded its offerings on the West Coast, now availing customers with direct, on demand flights connecting LAX, DTLA, Burbank, the Westside, Orange County, and more in Southern California. Months after the UAM provider brought their San Francisco Bay services into the public realm, they’ve continued to expand their West Coast market to include Southern California....
BLADE Urban Air Mobility has expanded its offerings on the West Coast, now availing customers with direct, on demand flights connecting LAX, DTLA, Burbank, the Westside, Orange County, and more in Southern California.
Months after the UAM provider brought their San Francisco Bay services into the public realm, they’ve continued to expand their West Coast market to include Southern California.
In an interview with BLADE’s General Manager of West Coast Operations, Shivani Parikh, and BLADE UAM Founder and CEO, Rob Wiesenthal, the new operations were described as an exciting new market for on-demand aerial mobility for the West Coast.
“Since expanding our continuous flight service in Manhattan and San Francisco, we are seeing faster-than-expected adoption by people choosing to fly rather than drive” Parikh stated. “Additionally, Los Angeles is on the forefront of embracing multi-modality transportation options such as auto, bike, and scooter shares as new ways of saving time. BLADE is now enabling another mobility option – the ability to fly short distances bypassing ground traffic on the way to work, home, the airport or to key leisure destinations. Los Angeles’ great weather contributes to an endless flying season for customers to take advantage of beating traffic in one of the most congested cities in the United States.
TransportUP’s Editor, Naish Gaubatz, went for a ride with the BLADE team in Los Angeles to demo the expansion of BLADE’s UAM offerings. The short helicopter ride highlighted the benefits of a dedicated urban air mobility operation in a congested city like Los Angeles – not only were the direct to heliport services at LAX a means to save time, the flight to the West Side showcased the ease of travelling along a route that would normally take almost an hour when the Northbound 405 Freeway is gridlocked (while the flight took less than 10 minutes and included spectacular views to boot).
Additionally, BLADE’s new expansion of services in Southern California play well with the culture of entertainment and luxury excursion that is signature of Los Angeles – and which many travel far to experience. In partnership with a variety of music, cultural, sporting, and large event programmers, BLADE has been able to capture a large amount of on-demand aerial mobility customers who are seeking better and faster ways to reach these marquis events. Not to mention, many of these experiences are accompanied with time at one of BLADE’s signature customer experience facets – the BLADE Lounge. Currently stationed in DTLA, the BLADE Lounge offers customers the chance to unwind with a drink before their flight, or complete some last minute work items. BLADE has stated that prices of flights between LAX, DTLA, the West Side, and Burbank will start at $195.
Many argue that BLADE is piloting UAM operations of tomorrow with a platform that’s functional today by utilizing the most technologically advanced, safest certified rotorcraft on the market. When asked about the transition between helicopters and eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft) as the main aircraft that serve currently heli-dominated routes, CEO Rob Wiesenthal stated “We don’t see the transition as a step function change; there will be opportunities for customers on a limited basis to try eVTOL aircraft when they’re available, certified, and have a track record of performance – but even then the integration into BLADE’s accessible fleet will be measured”
Shivani Parikh also commented on potential future expansion plans for BLADE in SoCal to include Santa Barbara, San Diego, and desert cities on an “as demanded basis”. The general approach, commented Parikh, was utilize early adopting customer feedback campaigns that help to identify the areas for the largest benefit and refinement of BLADE’s current offerings.
Why it’s important: BLADE UAM has few competitors in Southern California – in fact, the closest entity to a competitor currently are helicopter charter services that require booking and coordination days, if not weeks in advance. With BLADE’s UAM platform, customers can book and be airborne in minutes, directly on the way to their destination. In cities like New York and Los Angeles alike, the last few miles of the journey can make all the difference in time savings, and BLADE’s expansion in SoCal could likely be the beginning of many more commercial UAM operations in Los Angeles.
The initiative will support critical organ movement for patients in need of transplants. BLADE Urban Air Mobility, Inc. (“BLADE”) has announced a partnership with NYU Langone Health to arrange on-demand helicopter transportation for NYU Langone Transplant Institute teams and donor organs. Expeditious transportation is critical for organ transplantation; for every hour an organ is outside of the human body, surgical...
The initiative will support critical organ movement for patients in need of transplants.
BLADE Urban Air Mobility, Inc. (“BLADE”) has announced a partnership with NYU Langone Health to arrange on-demand helicopter transportation for NYU Langone Transplant Institute teams and donor organs. Expeditious transportation is critical for organ transplantation; for every hour an organ is outside of the human body, surgical success rates decrease materially.
As the “largest arranger of civilian helicopter travel in the United States,” BLADE is well-poised to make available its network of terminals, which currently span four states. The company has already implemented an expansive service in New York City, including continuous flight service between Manhattan and all NYC area airports.
“BLADE has made its dedicated aircraft and private network of terminals in four states available to aid NYU Langone transplant physicians with the lifesaving work they do every day,” said Rob Wiesenthal, BLADE’s CEO. “As the largest arranger of civilian helicopter travel in the United States, our platform is ideally suited to provide NYU Langone with
BLADE CEO Rob Weisenthal emphasized that NYU Langone will be provided “24/7 access to safety-vetted rotorcraft with as little as 20 minutes notice.” BLADE’s fleet of Bell 407 and Sikorsky S-76 helicopters are predicted to reduce the travel times of organs between NYU Langone and common donor hospitals by up to three hours. As an added benefit, these organ transplantation missions will be more cost effective than the previous, slower methods, while also improving outcomes for New York City transplant patients.
Not only is this application of aerial mobility technologies invaluable for the patients and institutes it serves, but it also provides BLADE and other companies with a way to begin standing up and improving upon operations. Vermont-based eVTOL manufacturer, Beta Technologies, similarly found this to be a potential path for developmental growth, and has been working toward a goal of transporting organs with United Therapeutics. The biotechnology firm provided an undisclosed amount of funding to Beta for the purpose of designing and testing its Ava XC aircraft, which has already undergone hundreds of flights.
Related: Beta Technologies Exits Stealth Mode
Why it’s important: As part of its Urban Air Mobility Initiative, one of BLADE’s key long-term goals is to make short distance aviation more accessible through quiet, carbon neutral and cost effective aircraft (eVTOL). As seen by the focus placed by both Beta Technologies and BLADE, organ transplantation services are a feasible, humanitarian application of aerial mobility. It has great potential to open doors as the industry expands to operate and become regulated in services such as civilian transport and commercial logistics.
eVTOLs have benefits that helicopters won’t be able to compete with. Helicopters are the world’s current solution to aerial mobility: a time proven system that effectively transports people and goods short to medium distances, with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities to boot. Air taxi services utilizing helicopters have operated since the 1950’s, New York Airways being one of the famed...
eVTOLs have benefits that helicopters won’t be able to compete with.
Helicopters are the world’s current solution to aerial mobility: a time proven system that effectively transports people and goods short to medium distances, with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities to boot. Air taxi services utilizing helicopters have operated since the 1950’s, New York Airways being one of the famed initial operators that was profitable until a crash in 1977 resulted in the company going defunct.
Today, companies like BLADE have successfully implemented shared-seat and private charter model air taxi services in locales such as New York, and other mobility companies like Uber have followed suit and launched their own platform, Uber Copter in mid-2019, also operating in New York City. The usage of helicopters for on-demand aerial mobility services extends beyond the United States – Voom operates Airbus Helicopters in Sao Paulo and Mexico City. All of these companies share a common intent, which Airbus’ lists on their website:
By providing daily commuters with a more efficient transportation option, Voom addresses the challenges associated with traffic congestion in cities. At the same time, Voom enables Airbus to lay the groundwork for our longer-term vision of urban air mobility in which urban transport is powered by electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles.
BLADE, Uber, Voom, and other companies intend on making the transition to eVTOLs when the time is right. But given the operational history and depth of knowledge in a proven system like the helicopter, why expend the extra effort to replace helicopters with an entirely new system?
One of the greatest obstacles to launching any aerial mobility service is noise and visual intrusions to the public. Many aerial mobility companies that intend on utilizing eVTOLs must overcome the hurdle of community acceptance. Fortunately, existing operators have accomplished this goal with an even more challenging (and louder) system – the helicopter. Among key aspects to reduce noise and visual pollution are electrification of the power plant (reduction in turbine noise emissions) and leverage original propulsion systems (smaller rotors) that output proportionally less noise than a singular rotor system like a helicopter. Resultantly, eVTOL OEM’s prioritize noise impact reductions as a key feature of their designs and promote quieter skies as a major advantage for eVTOLs over traditional helicopters.
eVTOLs represent a step forward for vertical flight as designs progress away from single rotor to distributed propulsion solutions. Many eVTOLs use IDEP (Integrated distributed electric propulsion) employing several (sometimes up to 18) rotors for vertical lift. Rotor speed is independently controlled, thereby improving handling qualities and redundancies in the instance a single rotor should experience an anomaly. According to Uber Elevate’s whitepaper, eVTOL developers claim to achieve levels of safety four times safer than that of helicopters (which equates to approximately double the current safety standards in autos).
Additionally, the majority of helicopter accidents occur due to pilot or planning errors. With the advent of advanced autonomous flight control systems (updated with weather, air traffic information, and iterative flight path information) eVTOLs reduce risks associated with operator error. Even the initial piloted operations of eVTOLs will still be enhanced by the greater capabilities of flight control augmentation and situational awareness that accompanies vehicles designed for autonomous operation.
Manufacturing helicopters is complicated and expensive. While eVTOLs achieve similar levels of fuselage and materials complexity, many of their propulsion systems are plug-and-play: most eVTOL concepts use many of the same type of brushless DC electric motor for propulsion. While helicopters use turbines and transmissions to translate energy to thrust, electric motors driveshafts on eVTOLs are directly attached to fan blades, negating the need for transmissions. These manufacturing considerations also translate into MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and operations) architecture for aerial mobility. Helicopters require a complete overhaul of their turbine approximately every 2,000 flight hours. eVTOL motors will likely adhere to similar regulations, but in lieu of an expensive and time-consuming overhaul, electric motors would simply be removed and replaced in a few minutes.
Operational Expenses & Emissions
The most direct benefit of eVTOLs over helicopters is electrification. Electric power (at the point of operation) is cheaper and cleaner than operating gas turbines. While mid -size helicopters typically consume 50 gallons of Jet-A per hour (or $200/hour of fuel assuming a nominal Jet-A price of $4/gallon). The predicted electricity costs for an eVTOL is approximately 8.2 cents per mile [Uber Elevate Whitepaper], and at a nominal speed of 50 miles/hour, equates to a whopping $4/hour for “fuel”. In fact, for the same price as an hour of fuel for a helicopter, an eVTOL could fly over 2,400 miles (assuming recharging stops of course).
Additionally, electric operations reduce carbon emissions at the point of operation. While the electricity powering eVTOLs may not be 100% sustainably generated, electrification of aerial mobility (and aviation in general) will continue to grow as it has over the last 10 years – many examples of electric training aircraft, small commercial concepts, and hybrid systems are in operation around the world today.
Autonomous Operational System Architecture
At scale, eVTOLs intend to conduct aerial mobility operations autonomously, and integrated with airspace management systems to oversee the volume of air traffic in a highly populated urban area. Using these low altitude airspace management platforms such as AirMap and Boeing’s Skygrid, the need for pilot and air traffic controller are eliminated. Most exciting, autonomous flights such as these have already occurred – EHang completed multiple passenger-carrying autonomous flights at the 2019 Northeast Asia expo in Changchun.
So when can we expect large-scale commercial operation of eVTOLs?
Although we won’t see autonomous eVTOLs buzzing around the skies of LA, New York City, Tokyo, or London next year, progress is being made every day to enable commercial operations of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Helicopters currently serve as the gateway to lay operational framework, but studies such as one from Morgan Stanley’s research arm estimate that eVTOL aerial mobility services could be valued at up to $1.5 Trillion by the year 2040.
Over 100 companies are developing eVTOL aircraft, and Uber claims that it will launch initial services within five years. Several of the world’s major aircraft manufacturers including Airbus, Boeing, and Bell are also developing their own aircraft, many of which are already in the flight testing phase of development.
To learn more about the growing world of eVTOLs, aerial mobility, air taxis, and more, visit TransportUP’s homepage at TransportUP.com
Sources // Uber Elevate, EHang, Volocopter, Lilium, Airbus