Well-heeled NYC commuters looking to dodge traffic and reach their destination in style may soon have another option: taking to the sky in an electric air taxi.
That’s the hope of air-transport firm Blade Air Mobility Inc. and Beta Technologies, an electric aerospace company, after the successful completion of a historic test flight of Beta’s ALIA-250 EVA electric vertical take-off and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft at the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York Tuesday — the first of its kind in the area.
The flight marks a milestone for the duo, they are among the flood of companies racing to develop flying taxis that can ascend like a helicopter and fly like a plane. It may also prove a boon for New Yorkers with means looking for alternatives as the surge in noisy air traffic spurs residential ire.
“Without question, this will be the mainstay for Blade and the mainstay for the industry,” Rob Wiesenthal, chief executive officer of Blade, said in an interview.
Blade already operates a ride-sharing business selling premium-priced seats on helicopters and charter planes which can carry six to as many as 16 passengers to resort destinations such as the Hamptons, Aspen and Miami. The company also offers helicopter rides to JFK Airport from Manhattan as well as arranges organ transplant transport.
Blade’s shares climbed as much as 10% to $4.75 in New York trading.
The completion of Tuesday’s test flight comes after a surge in New York City helicopter complaints during the pandemic.
“The public will be more accepting because the noise footprint is so much more palatable,” Wiesenthal said. The sound from the craft, dubbed the ALIA-250, is much quieter than the average flight.
The ALIA-250, which seats six, is powered by an all-electric propulsion system and a noise profile that the companies say is 1/10th the sound decibel level of conventional helicopters.
For the dream to become a reality though, Blade and BETA will need to secure regulatory approvals as well as establish an infrastructure to charge and load the craft. And they are up against a number of competitors with similar aspirations after a flood of new companies including Joby Aviation Inc., Vertical Aerospace Ltd, and Archer Aviation Inc. raised funds via special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) mergers over the past few years.
Beta targets Federal Aviation Administration approval in 2024 while Blade plans to have the eVTOL aircraft accepting passengers by 2026. And Blade’s existing helicopter service supports gives it a leg up on the competition, initially the companies plan to use rolling trucks to charge the vehicles.
“Blade is flying passengers in key urban markets all over the world, and this flight is another step toward delivering our electric aircraft to support those operations,” said Kyle Clark, Beta’s founder and CEO.