Blade Urban Air Mobility has ordered up to 20 aircraft from Beta Technologies, becoming the first passenger service customer for Beta’s six-seat Alia eVTOL.
The news, announced April 13, comes just a week after UPS announced its intention to buy up to 150 Beta aircraft to transport time-sensitive deliveries in small and mid-size markets. As with UPS, Beta expects to deliver the first aircraft for Blade starting in 2024, pending certification by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Founded in 2014, Blade is known primarily as a helicopter seat booking service operating in and around New York City, although it has expanded into domestic and international markets including Los Angeles and India.
In December, Blade announced its plans to go public through a combination with the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Experience Investment Corp. (NASDAQ: EXPC), with the explicit goal of transitioning from helicopters to eVTOL aircraft starting in 2025 as the urban air mobility (UAM) market starts to take off.
“Blade is flying people in and out of cities every day, and we’re excited to partner with the leader in UAM to create a new paradigm in passenger aviation,” Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clark stated in a press release.
“Blade is focused on its transition from conventional rotorcraft to electric vertical aircraft [EVA],” said Blade founder and CEO Rob Wiesenthal. “Beta’s delivery commitment date in 2024 is ahead of our current projected deployment of EVA in 2025. The transaction, consistent with our asset-light operating model, allows Blade to leverage our significant flight volumes and third-party financing partners to support the purchase of Beta aircraft by our operator partners.”
Blade’s agreement with Beta includes a commitment for Blade operators, or third-party financing sources who will enter into leasing arrangements with operators, to purchase up to 20 of Beta’s first passenger-configured aircraft. Blade has also entered into an arrangement with U.S. aircraft operator Jet Linx Aviation — which is supported by equity capital from Beta and Blade strategic investor RedBird Capital Partners — enabling Jet Linx to own and operate EVA for Blade flights.
Blade has committed to facilitate the purchase of at least five and up to 20 Beta aircraft by Jet Linx and other operators through minimum flight hour guarantees. The agreement between Blade and Beta is conditioned upon completion of Blade’s merger with Experience Investment Corp.
Blade said its service with Alia will begin on select routes between its network of dedicated terminals in the Northeast U.S., where Beta has agreed to provide and install charging infrastructure at key locations. Wiesenthal said Alia’s six-person capacity, significant range, and cold weather capabilities make it ideal for key Northeast mission profiles.
“At the same time, we remain focused on our work with other leading aerospace manufacturers, continuing our strategy of deploying the most appropriate EVA model for each of our specific routes,” he added.
As part of the agreement, Beta has committed that Alia will meet the necessary specifications required to operate on Blade’s key routes prior to delivery. The aircraft has a projected range of 250 nautical miles (460 kilometers) and cruising speed of 170 miles per hour (nearly 275 km/h). Publicly available flight tracking data shows that Alia has already flown more than 110 miles (180 km) on a single charge during flight testing, albeit in airplane rather than VTOL mode. (Low-speed hover testing is expected to begin soon).
“Alia is a full-scale aircraft flying in piloted configuration almost every day,” Wiesenthal noted. “The team’s progress is formidable.”
Beta expects to certify the aircraft under the FAA’s part 23 rules for small airplanes, although the company did not provide more details on the status of its certification program. To date, Joby Aviation is the only eVTOL air taxi developer that has publicly claimed to have established a certification basis with the FAA, also under the framework of part 23.
Beta asserts that its simple lift-plus-cruise design — incorporating four overhead propellers for vertical take-offs and landings, and a rear pusher-propeller for cruise flight — should give it a “direct path” to certification.
“Beta is a pragmatic company building pragmatic aircraft,” said Clark. “It’s clear that the simplicity of our approach, strength of our technology, consistent progress against our timelines as well as the expertise of our team resonates with the best operators in the world.”
In addition to Blade and UPS, Beta has a launch customer in United Therapeutics, which plans to use its eVTOL aircraft to transport human organs for transplant. Beta also has contracts with the U.S. Air Force under the service’s Agility Prime program to accelerate development of the commercial eVTOL industry.