As anyone who has sat in endless rush-hour traffic on I-95 knows, commuting between Boston and New York can be a nightmare. But those who have dreamed of a Jetsons-style teleportation option may be in luck if a new, high-speed service promising affordable, 36-minute flights between the cities comes to fruition.
Transcend Air, founded by a group of longtime airline professionals and aviation engineers, hopes to bring business and leisure travelers an economically and environmentally-sustainable travel option with new VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) aircrafts that travel 400 miles per hour and cost $283 per ticket — around the price of a commercial airline ticket plus ground transportation between the cities. Pending FAA certification and local government approval, Transcend plans to release flights as soon as 2027, departing from New York’s heliports — including Hudson Yard’s W30th Street location.
“Going between Boston and New York, you can take a train, you can take a conventional airliner, you can go by inexpensive bus, a limo liner, or you can drive yourself in your car — but because of congestion, they all end up taking four to five hours,” said Transcend COO Peter H Schmidt. “The impetus for starting Transcend was that my co-founder Greg and I were regular business travelers between Boston and New York. Greg grew up in Great Neck, Long Island and dreamed as a child about being able to fly up out of the traffic jams on the Long Island Expressway!”
Drawing on decades of combined experience in the aviation industry, Greg, Peter and the Transcend team collaborated with partners like the US Air Force, GE and Prometheus to test and build a VTOL vehicle powered by fuel created out of carbon dioxide. “We’re excited about the fuel we’re working on with Prometheus, which is called E-Fuel — it uses electricity to reverse the combustion process, meaning it takes carbon dioxide out of the air, combines it with water vapor from the air, and makes a fuel out of it at a price that’s competitive with fossil fuels,” said Peter.
He’s equally as excited about the economic efficiencies of their new aircraft in comparison with standard travel and helicopter services like BLADE and Uber. “If you look at the cost of a taxi to LaGuardia, a Delta shuttle ticket to Logan and then a taxi downtown, we are actually cheaper for a good percentage of those travelers,” Peter said. The more affordable service is possible due to the efficiency of the aircraft itself, he added. “With a helicopter, you can only do two, maybe three flights — if you’re lucky — between Boston and New York, because it’s so much slower. I’m paying the pilots for a full day, but since our aircraft is twice as fast, we can run six round-trips per day, taking double the passengers for the same cost. Sometimes people say, ‘Hey, if this is such a great service, why don’t people do it with helicopters?’ Well, when you model it with a helicopter, the ticket prices are $600 a person. No one thinks that’s affordable, not even billionaires.”
The VTOL aircraft is capable of taking off and landing vertically, without a runway and can accelerate up to conventional airplane speeds. The VTOL airspeed can be 400mph, whereas helicopters can only travel at around 160mph.
One challenge to a widespread VTOL buy-in is the concern over safety. Although VTOL aircrafts have been employed for years by the US Military, a squad of Osprey VTOLs were recalled in February after a series of safety incidents. Peter said Transcend Air is committed to burnishing the technology’s reputation, with an emphasis on already-existing safety measures used in small aircraft. “The single most valuable addition to safety this aircraft will have is a whole airframe parachute — which is a proven technology that’s been in use for over 20 years on other small aircrafts,” he said. “If something really bad happens, either the pilot or potentially a passenger or the aircraft itself will deploy the parachute and then the whole aircraft floats down to the ground. We’re working with a company called Cirrus, and they’ve saved over 400 lives with parachute-assisted descents.”
Peter is also aware of community concern over aircraft noise on the West Side. Local leaders and residents have continually campaigned for additional regulation around helicopter noise plaguing the W30th Street heliport, with mixed results. He assured W42ST that Transcend’s aircraft will be “much quieter than any of the helicopters people have heard operating out of the West Side Heliport.” Each new VTOL vehicle “has to pass Stage 3 FAA noise regulations that none of the existing helicopters operating there had to — the new regulations went into effect after they were certified.” Other VTOL initiatives such as an electric offering from helicopter company Blade have promised similarly quiet transport, though none have yet been implemented. Blade’s eVTOL vehicles are targeting a 2025 launch pending FAA approval, with no word yet on pricing or routes. Last summer, W42ST tried out an already up-and-running transit alternative — the Tailwind Air seaplane, a small aircraft shuttle experience designed by Hell’s Kitchen resident Edmond Huot, that departs from E23rd Street with routes to Boston, Nantucket, Shelter Island and Provincetown for approximately $600-900 a ticket.
The next step for Transcend is to win the approval of Boston and New York City governments, as well as residents. “There’s a host of organizations that we need to bring together and get all nodding their heads — and the most important are the community organizations,” said Peter. “If the community organizations are willing to accept that this could be a good thing and give it a try, then the mayor’s offices will get on board. And with the mayor’s offices on board, everybody else in the city is very open to hearing the story,” he added. “We’re already understanding how this process would work in both Boston and New York City, and I have experience of interacting with communities who are concerned about aircraft noise. I founded a nonprofit back in the early 2000s that was dedicated to building a bridge between pilots up here in the Boston area for suburbs who were concerned about the noise. I’ve done this kind of community building and interacting myself, I understand how it works — and fundamentally it boils down to making sure you’re respectful of people’s concerns and that they have an avenue to see that they’re being addressed. If people don’t see the value of the service we’re providing in comparison to the impact it’s having on them — then in good conscience, we won’t serve that community.”
But if New Yorkers and Bostonians are willing to let Transcend Air take flight, he thinks it might be the start of a new era of urban travel. Flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco and San Diego as well as Toronto to Montreal have all been floated as potential routes — if Boston to New York works, said Peter. “As Sinatra said, with regards to New York — ‘if we can make it there, we can make it anywhere.’”