Europe Key to Blade's Passenger Growth

 - May 21, 2023, 5:14 AM
Helicopter charter provider Blade has expanded into new markets with recent acquisitions, and plans call for the company to provide trips in advanced air mobility vehicles as those enter service. (Photo: Blade)e)

Europe has emerged as the largest passenger market for Blade Air Mobility following its acquisitions on the continent of Monacair SAM and Heli Securite in 2022, according to Melissa Tomkiel, the company’s president. 

Without revealing exact figures for the European market, Tomkiel did say that the majority of Blade’s more than 125,000 passengers annually worldwide are transported in the Alps during the ski season, with service in the region around Geneva and Courcheval, and in the south of France and Monaco, the latter being prime destinations in the spring and summer. At any given time, Blade has access to between 25 and 30 helicopters in Europe, Tomkiel said, the majority of them turbine singles, including the Airbus H130 series. Twins are used more frequently during the winter ski season.

“We’re ramping up for the busy summer season on the French Riviera and in Monaco, which really kicks off [this month] with the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix. We have a robust charter business that we are looking to grow and we’re relaunching scheduled service between Nice and Monaco that had been suspended since Covid,” she noted.

“We’re also launching scheduled service between Nice and Cannes around events like the film festival,” Tomkiel said, adding that there is more demand for twin-engine helicopters from charter customers. She also said Blade plans to expand its existing service around Monaco and northern Italy. 

Blade’s charter activities already are growing beyond seasonal tourism hot spots, where the company continues to enlarge its footprint, to markets including London. Blade also is looking to penetrate the market around Paris with eVTOL aircraft once they come online and is investigating related infrastructure requirements. 

Blade has announced agreements with eVTOL manufacturers, including Beta Technologies and Jaunt, to service other markets as well. In April 2021, Blade announced an agreement to facilitate the purchase of up to 20 of Beta’s first passenger-configured ALIA-250 aircraft by its network of operators. Blade intends to deploy these aircraft on routes between its network of dedicated terminals in the US. Beta has also agreed to provide and install charging infrastructure at certain key locations.

Two months ago, Blade’s Indian joint venture, Fly Blade, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to begin eVTOL operations in India and the region by 2027. The MoU outlines plans for Blade India’s acquisition of 150 Jaunt Journey aircraft, with options for 100 more. 

Tomkiel said Blade is in the process of building out amenities in Europe that are modeled after its dedicated passenger lounges in the U.S. It is also exploring the possibility of expanding its MediMobility human-organ transport business in the region, although Tomkiel said the regulatory burden for that business segment in Europe is more complicated than in the U.S. “Regulations don’t make it as easy to navigate, but it is certainly something we are exploring,” she said. 

Buoyed by $365 million in fresh capital in 2021 via a special purpose acquisition company combination with Experience Investment Corp., Blade became a publicly traded business with a market capitalization at the time of more than $500 million, which it used to make a series of strategic acquisitions. This includes Trinity Air Medical, which was folded into Blade’s fast-growing MediMobility organ transport unit. The company also paid $12 million to acquire Richmond, British Columbia-based Helijet’s passenger routes.

In 2022, Blade’s year-over-year losses narrowed to $27.26 million on revenues of $146.1 million versus a $32 million loss on $67 million in revenues in 2021. The company ended the year with a particularly strong fourth quarter, according to CEO Rob Wiesenthal.