Blade Helicopter, the Hudson-Yards-based company, has become America’s largest organ transporter, marking a significant achievement in its business expansion. However, this growth is accompanied by ongoing controversy and challenges. Blade’s helicopters which operate from the heliport at W30th Street in Hudson River Park, have frequently been a point of contention, leading to protests and objections from both local residents and officials.
Blade tapped into the medical transport business after acquiring Trinity Air Medical in 2021, an organ transport company, for $23 million. The aircraft used by Blade to fly passengers to and from airports are the same aircraft used to transport organs.
“Take NYU Langone for example. Our helicopters transform an hour or two commute from the airport to the hospital to just a 5-minute flight to the heliport on 34th Street,” said Will Heyburn, Blade’s Chief Financial Officer.
Blade’s MediMobility transportation involves collaboration between hospitals and organ procurement organizations. Blade transports the surgeon from the hospital to the donor’s location to retrieve the organ and then transports the surgeon back with the organ. This minimizes commute times and increases the odds that the transported organ remains viable.
“The faster you can put logistics together, the farther you can go to find a match. That increases the volume of organs available,” said Heyburn. Blade was part of a record-breaking 2,506-mile transplant trip, with a heart being flown from Alaska to Boston earlier this year.
However, Blade’s helicopters have long been a source of discontent for both local residents and local officials. In 2021, helicopter noise was the second-most documented complaint in Midtown, leading to increased calls for stricter regulations on their operations. Concerns about noise pollution, and the negative effect on air quality, have put Blade’s helicopters in the crosshairs of many who are vying for a quieter and cleaner environment.
“The two biggest concerns have been noise and the toxic fuel that comes from the helicopters,” said City Council member Gale Brewer. “There are tons of them. We have received so many complaints. The helicopters have to be quieter.”
Blade began testing electric helicopters earlier this year, which would have zero emissions. Representatives from Blade at the time said “The ALIA-250 aircraft is powered by an all-electric propulsion system with vertical takeoff and landing capability and a noise profile that is 1/10th the sound decibel level of conventional helicopters, making it ideal for use in urban areas.”
Blade’s MediMobility serves over 60 transplant centers and organ procurement organizations. Blade is partnered with all of the transplant centers in the New York City area, including NYU Langone. Heyburn says they completed around 8,000 transports last year. In comparison, there were over 40,000 organ transplants performed in total last year.
“The passenger flights we do subsidizes our organ business. They work in tandem,” said Lee Gold, Chief of Staff at Blade.
Blade’s MediMobility significantly reduces the logistical timeframe required for organ transplants, primarily focusing on hearts, lungs, and livers. The viability windows are crucial as hearts remain viable for approximately 4 hours, lungs for around 5-6 hours, and livers for about 7-8 hours.
State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal was a co-sponsor of the Stop the Chop Act, which would have further restricted heliport use for non-essential rides. The bill passed the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Kathy Hochul in December.
Streetsblog, a transportation news website, reported late last year that the W30 Street heliport has a yearly cap of 16,250 flights, and traffic there has been around 65-75 percent of that limit in recent years.