Uber, Lyft, taxi cab or…helicopter? Luxury local air transport company Blade is testing out new electric passenger vertical take-off and landing aircraft that may soon be heading for New York’s skies.
The passenger helicopter corporation — primarily known for shuttling the well-to-do from the W30th Street heliport in Hudson River Park to JFK, Newark airport, Miami Beach and the Hamptons — ran a test flight on one of its new fleet of electric vehicles, the ALIA-250 EVA, in Westchester County this Tuesday. The ALIA-250 EVA has been in design for the past three years by Vermont-based BETA Technologies and features a vehicle that can be charged in 50 minutes and accommodate pilots and passengers, though Blade executives hope to eventually roll out automated, pilot-free options.
The ALIA-250 EVA is considered an eVTOL, also known as an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Blade’s Chief Technology Officer Brandon Keene called the innovation a zero-emissions “game changer” that will “dramatically lower the cost of flight.” He added, “We want to make flight accessible to everyone, and eVTOL is the first step in that evolution.”
“This demonstration is a big milestone in our transition from helicopters to electric vertical aircraft, and we are pleased that our partners at BETA have designed the right aircraft with the requisite range, capacity and noise profile, for use in our key markets, including our home base of New York City,” said Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal in a statement, adding that they hope to install the fleet in NYC by 2025, pending FAA approval.
But for West Siders, the news may not be as welcome. Local leaders and residents have long advocated for stricter regulations around helicopter use in Midtown, arguing that choppers’ air quality, congestion and rampant noise is significantly detrimental to the area. Some New Yorkers, fed up with what they believe to be insufficient action from 311 and city agencies in response to helicopter menace, have formed a citizen advocacy group called Stop the Chop NY NJ.
Both State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and City Council Member Gale Brewer have sponsored legislation to curb chopper commutes — Brewer introduced Bill 226, which would prohibit leisure helicopters from landing on city-owned heliports if they do not meet specific noise level restrictions, and also co-sponsored Bill 551, which would prohibit non-essential helicopter operations at city-owned landing pads. Brewer told W42ST that she would need to investigate further to see whether the electric fleet was truly quieter and fuel-free, adding that she’d be willing to take an exploratory flight as she had in the past on gas-powered helicopters.
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Hoylman-Sigal co-sponsored the Stop the Chop Act, which would allow those affected by helicopter noise to take legal action and further restrict heliport use for non-essential rides. The Act passed the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Kathy Hochul in a move that Hoylman-Sigal called disappointing. “The noise, pollution and health impacts of tourist choppers is only growing for West Siders and across Manhattan,” he said at the time, adding that his office still planned to advocate for closing the W30th Street heliport.
But will quieter electric vehicles change Midtown minds? Representatives from Blade told W42ST: “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.”
We reached out to Hoylman-Sigal, Manhattan Community Board 4 and Stop the Chop NY NJ for comment on the situation and will update when we hear back.
For now, in response to a CNBC segment highlighting the test run one commenter said, “No aviation authority in the world is allowing eVTOLS to fly over built-up areas, because they can’t autorotate in the event of power failure. Acceptance is always just around the corner. I hope it changes.” Another added: “Man, Americans will do anything to avoid investing in trains.”