Blade Urban Air Mobility and Ross Aviation, the North American FBO chain, have entered into a strategic alliance to expedite the roll-out of urban air mobility services in the regions where Ross and Blade operations overlap. In December Experience Investment agreed to merge with Blade which, following the closing of the merger, will create the only publicly traded urban air mobility platform in the United States.
Under the strategic alliance, Blade plans to launch a pilot programme offering daily helicopter flights between Ross Aviation's west terminal at the Westchester County airport and Blade heliport terminals in Manhattan to serve commuters from the Westchester/Connecticut area. In 2019, these commuters took more than 40 million trips commuting to and from New York City, the majority driving alone in a car for one to two hours in each direction. Blade expects the five-day-per-week service to begin as early as March 2021, transforming that one to two hour drive into a 10-15 minute flight.
“Even with the expected increase of remote working post-pandemic, we believe that intermittent commuting of one to two times per week between the suburbs and New York City will be a reality,” says Rob Wiesenthal, CEO of Blade. “Congestion on tri-state area roads is now estimated at 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Given the combination of being near Uber Black pricing at $175, and the time savings of an approximately 12-minute flight, this service makes sense today and over the long term.”
Additionally, Blade and Ross intend to work together to develop a plan to build a vertiport, located at Westchester County, which will include the infrastructure required to hangar, charge, stage and deploy electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft as they become commercially available. Some of the conditions to the development of any such vertiport will include local and federal approvals including by the airport, Westchester County and the Federal Aviation Administration. While many in the industry expect eVTOL aircraft to be ready for flights as early as 2022 or 2023, Blade projects a more conservative timetable of 2025.
Ross CEO Brian Corbett states: “We are constantly looking to strengthen and expand our network. We view this alliance with Blade and our continued investment in innovative technology as a great opportunity to further enhance our flight hospitality network, enrich customers' experiences and strengthen our relationships with the communities we serve. For our existing jet customers, who value safety, time and care above most else when travelling, our alliance with Blade will make getting to and from New York City even more efficient, while attracting new customers to the Ross Aviation network.”
Brandon Keene, CTO of Blade adds: “Following the introduction of eVTOL aircraft into the aviation ecosystem, geographically-constrained areas like Manhattan will become much more accessible by air on a cost-effective basis. This pilot programme, which uses conventional rotorcraft, will help us assess key use cases, drive schedule optimisation and determine flier needs for multi-modal connectivity. The potential for an eVTOL-ready vertiport at Westchester will not only catalyse the development of the industry but will enable meaningful reduction of carbon emissions and the noise footprint of short distance aviation in the region.”
Beyond the greater New York area, Blade and Ross Aviation intend to work together to offer Blade services and terminals at one or more Ross Aviation fixed base operations in Bedford and Cape Cod, Massachusetts as well as Palm Springs/Thermal and Long Beach, California. This programme is expected to launch in the second half 2021. In addition, the companies plan to seek additional areas for cooperation as Ross Aviation adds FBOs to its network.
Eric Affeldt, CEO and chairman of Experience Investment Corp. concludes: “When our sponsor KSL Capital Partners and I launched EIC, our goal was to leverage longstanding relationships, our network of industry connections and other KSL assets to help uncover attractive opportunities and expedite the growth plan for our merger partner. This alliance creates an important partnership for Blade and Ross Aviation, a portfolio company of KSL Capital Partners, to accommodate eVTOL routes, maintenance and charging stations in key markets.”