Blade Urban Air Mobility has reached an agreement to add up to 20 of Beta Technologies’ Alia 250 aircraft to its passenger transportation services network. The deal announced today calls for the all-electric lift-and-cruise model to join Blade’s fleet in 2024, with operations expected to start in 2025.
In the announcement, Beta refers to the Alia as an “electric vertical aircraft" (EVA) rather than using the standard industry term eVTOL. Last week, express delivery group UPS announced that it will buy 150 of the aircraft, plus some of Blade’s electric charging stations, with the first 10 aircraft due to be delivered in 2024.
On a full charge, the $4 million Alia will be able to operate on routes of up to 250 nm (288 miles), carrying six people (including a pilot) or three standard cargo pallets at speeds of up to 170 mph. Beta says it will take 50 minutes to recharge the aircraft, which is to be certified under FAA’s Part 23 rules.
Blade says that initially, the Alia will operate from the company’s existing private terminal infrastructure in the northeast U.S. where Beta will install its purpose-built recharging facilities. Most of the company’s services, which currently use a mix of helicopters and amphibious fixed-wing aircraft, are concentrated around the New York City area, as well as south Florida, Nantucket, and the Hamptons. According to Beta, the Alia will be 10 times quieter than a helicopter when hovering, and even quieter during cruise flight.
According to Blade, the aircraft will be acquired through its “third-party financing relationships” with its operating partners as part of its “asset-light” operating model. Jet Linx Aviation is set to be the first Blade partner to start operating the Aria and is expected to take an initial batch of five aircraft under an interim agreement. This includes a commitment from Blade to book a minimum number of revenue flight hours.
The operator is backed by RedBird Capital Partners, which is also an investor in both Blade and Beta Technologies. The "binding agreement" with Beta calls for Blade to take at least 5 and up to 20 of the new aircraft.
“The Alia’s extremely low sound footprint coupled with its zero-emissions design will enable us to reduce the noise and environmental impact to the communities surrounding the existing heliport and airport infrastructure we currently use,” said Blade founder and CEO Rob Wiesenthal. “Alia is a full-scale EVA flying in piloted configuration almost every day. The [Beta] team’s progress is formidable.”
In December 2020, Blade announced plans for an IPO merger with special purpose acquisition company Experience Investment Corp. This transaction is expected to close in May 2021.
According to Beta, its founder, CEO, and chief pilot Kyle Clark has logged several hundred hours in over 250 flights in the Alia and the company's earlier Ava XC technology demonstrator. The company’s progress with the development program for the new aircraft has largely been conducted privately by an engineering team recruited from organizations including Boeing, Tesla, SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, and the FAA.
The company said that it has already developed flight simulators to train Alia pilots. These are located at its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont; Washington, D.C.; and Springfield, Ohio.
Beta plans to develop a network of charging stations at sites across the U.S. to support operators. These will have an elevated deck on which the aircraft can land, plus workspace and rest facilities for the flight crew.
Medical technology group United Therapeutics is an investor in Vermont-based Beta and has previously committed to buying an unspecified number of the Alia aircraft for transporting human organs for transplant procedures. Beta is also receiving support from contracts awarded by the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program to accelerate the commercialization of air mobility vehicles that could have military applications.