American helicopter app takes service to Mumbai


Blade, a helicopter-ride app launched in 2014, has announced plans to extend its service to India’s financial capital Mumbai.

This will be the company’s first route outside the United States, where it offers customers frequent trips between New York and the Hamptons, as well as between Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

Blade plans to establish itself in Western India early next year, targeting business people in the cities of Mumbai and Pune. The service will also be available to pilgrims visiting the religious site of Shirdi, which receives up to 150,000 people a day, mostly using public and private transport. 

With a vehicle count that has risen 56% in just 5 years; and one of the world’s highest traffic congestion rates, Mumbai was an obvious choice for Blade’s first foreign location.

“We haven’t seen friction like this anywhere else in the world. It’s going to cut a 6-hour drive from Mahalakshmi to Pune, to just a 35-minute heli ride,” says Blade CEO, Rob Wiesenthal.

Delhi came in close second for Blade’s India market, but Wiesenthal states that it’s more the political capital; whereas Mumbai is the financial centre. As for other Indian cities, Blade is currently evaluating the congested South Indian city Bangalore for future endeavours.

On the other side of the pond, the service has now become a far more affordable commodity. As helicopter demand grew, Blade slashed the price for a five-minute flight from JFK to Manhattan, from $895 to $195.

Although $195 is more than the average monthly wage in India, Wiesenthal says that the provider is very sensitive to affordability issues. “The prices haven’t been set yet, but we’re looking at the low 100s of dollars per trip,” said Wiesenthal.

While the market might have certain limitations because of purchasing power, the cost of helicopters and those incurred to operate them are pretty similar to what they are in the States, he added. In a country with 1.4 billion people and a growing rate of wealthy individuals, Blade is confident that India is a great market for its expansion.

The company will set up a subsidiary called Blade India, which will be headed by Amar Abrol, former CEO of AirAsia India.

Further, Blade India will enable fliers to use lounges being constructed at convenient urban heliports, to avoid large commercial airports entirely. The designated points of origin will be the up-market locales of Juhu in North Mumbai and of Mahalakshmi — renowned for its horse racing track.

Similar to half of its customers in America, Wiesenthal said Blade is focusing on “people who like to spend not only on conveniences.” He believes that India has a younger, more-affluent class of people who place as much of a premium on an experience as they do on the utility of a service.

Blade is one of a handful of companies capitalising on elite aviation options in India. JetSetGo is a charter service that offers a multitude of options, via business jets and helicopters. Smaller charter services are also available in Bangalore.

As for potential competition, Wiesenthal maintains that Blade is the only ride-hailing heli service in the Indian market at present. He maintains that it is a complicated market to enter.

“I welcome people into the market. The more we prove that this market is viable, the greater the awareness by the public and the greater chance that Urban Air Mobility will become a focused initiative for government officials, said Wiesenthal.”