Blade’s Rob Wiesenthal on SPACs and electric vertical aircraft

Avatar for Gerrard CowanBy Gerrard Cowan | August 22, 2021

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 42 seconds.

Based in New York, Blade Urban Air Mobility provides an app-based platform that currently allows passengers to book seats on helicopters, jets, and seaplanes. But the company is actively preparing for the eVTOL future, seeing strong potential in what it terms “electric vertical aircraft” (EVA).

To that end, Blade has developed a series of relationships with eVTOL developers and other pioneers of electric flight. In May, it announced an alliance with magniX through which the latter will supply electric propulsion units to Lima NY Corp, allowing Lima’s Blade-branded fleet of amphibious Cessna Caravans to convert to all-electric aircraft from 2023. Blade also has a deal to secure up to 20 Alia EVA from Beta Technologies starting in 2024, an agreement to use Eve’s electric air taxis in its South Florida and West Coast markets from 2026, and an arrangement under which Wisk Aero will operate up to 30 of its self-flying EVA on short-distance Blade routes in the U.S. at some unspecified point in the future.

Blade Beta Alia eVTOL
Blade announced its deal with Beta Technologies in April, becoming the first passenger service customer for Beta’s six-seat Alia aircraft. Blade Image

Blade has also been a major player in the recent wave of interest in urban air mobility (UAM) from special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). In May, it began trading on the Nasdaq under the symbol BLDE following a successful combination with the SPAC Experience Investment Corp.

We spoke to Blade founder and CEO Rob Wiesenthal about his company’s interest in eVTOL aircraft and his views on the future of the space more broadly. How important is UAM/EVA to Blade, when compared to the more “traditional” helicopter domain?

Rob Wiesenthal: This company was never called Blade Helicopter, it was always Blade Urban Air Mobility. We saw that the [electric vehicle] battle on the ground was clearly going to move to the air, where we were going to have quiet, zero-emission electric aircraft that would be safe as well. By being asset-light, we’re able to make that transition faster than anybody.

Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal
Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal

Electric is so important because the only thing that stops us from flying to more destinations and having more convenient routes is noise. Some of the airports we land at are 100 years old and the heliports are 40 years old. So if I can offer a product that can pick you up a couple of blocks from your home, as opposed to you getting in a car and driving to a Blade Heliport, that’s much more valuable. But we can only do that if we get these aircraft quiet. And then people will be open to having more infrastructure. What’s driving interest among SPACs in UAM/EVA?

Rob Wiesenthal: I think it’s two things. There are obviously a lot of people who made significant capital on the ground in terms of electric vehicles, and it’s clear that focus is moving to the sky. For people who did well in that area, this is the next logical step.

Second, typically public investors have not been able to participate in growth companies like these; you were only able to invest privately pre-IPO [initial public offering]. So this allows a different type of investor.

From our perspective, of course, it gave us capital. More broadly, it created a lot of interest among investors who would typically not be able to invest in growth companies on a public basis. Blade’s share price is down over 30% year to date [at just over $7 as of Aug. 20]. What do you think is driving this?

Rob Wiesenthal: We’re right out of the gate. We priced this deal at an enterprise value of $450 million, which we thought was a prudent approach, leaving lots of room to grow.

We believe that as we continue to execute, the share price will reflect all the things we’re doing at the company, whether that be acquisitions or new alliances with manufacturers, as well as focusing on our existing business, which is now enjoying really strong pent-up travel demand [as COVID restrictions ease].

According to Blade’s latest quarterly report, after a difficult 2020, its short-distance passenger transportation revenues are back to 87% of pre-pandemic levels. The company has meanwhile seen strong growth in its MediMobility and jet products. Blade Photo What has the SPACs’ interest meant for the sector?

Rob Wiesenthal: To use an analogy of what we’ve lived through in the pandemic, what’s happened with the capital environment for these manufacturers has been like Operation Warp Speed [the U.S. government-backed effort to quickly develop and produce COVID-19 vaccines]. There are billions and billions being poured into this area in terms of manufacturing, which puts us in a good position. We have opportunities or deals with all of them, but we can optimize what’s right for us in terms of timing and mission profile with the right equipment.

I think one of the things that some people are missing is that a lot of these aircraft that are being built are good for certain missions. Just like today we have different helicopters for different missions, EMS or passenger transport, etc. The same thing will happen with EVA, we will have a variety of them for the right missions. So we need a portfolio approach to keep the kind of scale we have and to build upon that scale. And the fact that there’s so much money going into this space does give us more opportunities to ensure that we have in our accessible fleet the right aircraft for the various mission profiles.

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1 Comment

  1. Hello Sir,
    What’s would be the requirement for a Co-pilot to fly the EVTOL ?
    Thank you

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