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.

W30th St Heliport Blade Helicopter
A Blade helicopter arrives at the W30th Street Heliport in Hudson River Park last night. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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.

Gale Brewer at the Heliport in October 2021 as Borough President with other elected officials and the media.
Gale Brewer at the Heliport in October 2021 as Borough President with other elected officials and the media. Photo: Gale Brewer’s Office

“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.

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. I work on Circle Line tour boats. Those helicopters are enough to drive you crazy! They ruin the tours and at night they look like fire flies flying around the harbor. More than annoying, they are dangerous. No wonder one hears about one crashing every so often.

  2. There is only one hospital on the West side of Manhattan that does organ transplants. Blade should be using the East 34th Street heliport to be closer to NYU Langone, Cornell Weill, Mt Sinai, NY Presbyterian, etc.

  3. This is midtown, New York City, the capital of the world, and an island! A helipad on the river for New York City seems pretty reasonable! We should be embracing more and alternative forms of transportation.

    Everytime we are by the river and we spot a chopper land or take off everyone around me is going “oooh” and “ahh” watching it.

    Seriously, a (supposed) Circle Line employee on here complaining? Please tell us about the kind of fuel and the smells and emissions from those large tour boats that go nowhere but up and down on our precious river.

    I’ve been on a helicopter a couple times (people should try taking one before trashing them in comment sections with no experience) but not a blade, and I hope that I can get the opportunity sometime.

    1. I have to agree with you there. Those Circle Line boats sit there idling and revving all day long. People are hacking and coughing as they walk by.

  4. Don’t let Blades’s PR fool you. The organ business is a profit center, not charity. That is why they paid $23 million to buy the business. The core business of Blade caters to the 0.1% who fly to the airports or Hamptons while ruining the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers. These people are greedy and don’t care about the 99.9% of us who live on the ground. I know of people who have moved out of NYC just because of the chopper noise.

    1. I work in transplant. While it’s true they do it for profit, they are a lifeline for those of us at the hospitals waiting for these lifesaving organs to arrive. They perform a necessary service that has saved lives.

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