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The helicopter booking platform Blade is going public in a deal that will give it hundreds of millions of dollars for strategic acquisitions, strengthening its position as a leading provider of urban air mobility (UAM) services as it prepares for the arrival of electric air taxis.
The transaction, announced Dec. 15 and expected to close in the first half of 2021, will see Blade listed on the Nasdaq through a combination with Experience Investment Corp. (EIC), a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) sponsored by an affiliate of KSL Capital Partners. SPACs are publicly traded shell companies created for the sole purpose of acquiring existing companies, and have recently surged in popularity, according to Goldman Sachs.
The combination with EIC will give Blade a valuation of $825 million and $400 million in gross proceeds, including EIC’s cash held in trust and an additional $125 million from new and existing investors. Blade and KSL have already identified around $300 million in short- to mid-term investment opportunities that will help Blade expand its presence in the northeastern United States, on the West Coast in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and in new markets that could include Vancouver, Jakarta, and Tokyo.
Founded in 2014 by former Sony and Warner Music executive Rob Wiesenthal, Blade launched as a way to book helicopter flights between Manhattan and the Hamptons. By allowing passengers to book single seats using a convenient app — versus the traditional, time-consuming process of chartering an entire helicopter — Blade tapped into a new market of first-time fliers.
Since then, the company has added new routes and an airport shuttle service in its core market of New York City; jet service between New York, Miami, and Aspen; and helicopter charters in the Los Angeles area. Blade has also expanded into India and created a new division, Blade MediMobility, dedicated to organ transports.
Blade does not operate aircraft itself, instead partnering with third-party operators to arrange flights for its passengers — nearly 40,000 of them last year. As Blade chief financial officer Will Heyburn explained in a Dec. 15 investor call, this asset-light business model means that the company’s costs are “100 percent variable on a per flight basis: If we don’t fly, we don’t pay.” In exchange for bearing the fixed costs of aircraft operations, Blade’s partners gain increased flight volumes without having to invest their own resources in marketing, customer service, or booking technology.
Although helicopters will remain central to Blade’s business for at least the next five years, the company has enthusiastically embraced the growing UAM movement, rebranding as “Blade Urban Air Mobility” last year. Like other players in the space, Blade is counting on quiet, cost-effective electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to dramatically increase the potential market for its urban shuttle service, and projects that it will begin to transition existing routes to eVTOL aircraft starting in 2025.