BLADE Urban Air Mobility has ordered 20 of Beta Technologies’ six-seater ALIA eVTOL aircraft, in a deal which sees it become Beta’s first passenger service customer – with deliveries beginning in 2024.

The news follows last week’s news from Beta, which announced package delivery company UPS will also be purchasing 10 eVTOL aircraft for its air service fleet in the same year, with an option to buy up to 150.

As part of this latest agreement, Blade intends to deploy the 20 aircraft on routes between its network of dedicated terminals in the northeast of the USA. BETA has also agreed to provide and install charging infrastructure at key locations.

BLADE founder and CEO, Rob Wiesenthal, said: “We have evaluated the BETA aircraft and determined that, given its sixperson capacity, significant range and cold weather capabilities, it is ideal for key Northeast mission profiles and we believe it has a lower risk path to certification. At the same time, we remain focused on our work with other leading aerospace manufacturers, continuing our strategy of deploying the most appropriate EVA [electric vertical aircraft] model for each of our specific routes.”

Additionally, Blade has also entered into an arrangement with Jet Linx Aviation, supported by equity capital from RedBird Capital Partners, relating to the purchase of EVAs from BETA. It enables Jet Linx to own and operate EVA for Blade flights, subject to entering into definitive agreements.

The company will support EVA purchases by Jet Linx and other Blade operators through minimum flight hour guarantee, purchasing at least five and up to 20 aircraft by its network of operators or third parties that will lease the aircraft to Blade operators.

Kyle Clark, BETA’s founder and CEO, said: “BLADE is flying people in and out of cities every day, and we’re excited to partner with the leader in UAM to create a new paradigm in passenger aviation.

“BETA is a pragmatic company building pragmatic aircraft. It’s clear that the simplicity of our approach, strength of our technology, consistent progress against our timelines as well as the expertise of our team resonates with the best operators in the world. We are extremely excited to partner with BLADE and serve the passenger mission.” 

BLADE went public through a SPAC merger with Experience Investment Corp., in a deal worth $825 million in December 2020. These funds were to enable BLADE to bolster its growth within the growing urban air mobility market and transition its current helicopter service to eVTOL aircraft.

It offers travel by helicopter, seaplane or jet to cities and popular destinations across the world; short distance between 60 and 100 miles and flights between all New York area airports and dedicated Blade lounges in Manhattan heliports. Blade is also the largest transporter of human organs in northeast United States.

BLADE’s service with ALIA will begin on select routes using BLADE’s existing private terminal infrastructure. These aircraft will be deployed for a diverse set of mission profiles to and from city centres.

ALIA can carry up to six people or three standard cargo pallets and has a 250 nautical mile range with a cruising speed of up to 170mph. Charging of the aircraft can be completed in less than 50 minutes, while Beta has said ALIA will be more than 10 times quieter than a helicopter.

Wiesenthal added: “ALIA is a full-scale EVA flying in piloted configuration almost every day. The team’s progress is formidable. BETA’s scheduled delivery beginning in 2024 is ahead of our current projected deployment of EVA in 2025. The transaction, consistent with our asset-light business model, allows us to leverage our significant flight volumes and third-party financing relationships to enable the purchase of BETA aircraft by our operator partners.”

As well as building its own eVTOL aircraft, Beta is also developing a complete electric aviation ecosystem.

The company has the largest aviation charging network in the world, extending throughout the northeast states in the USA. The high-speed charging stations allow aircraft to charge at airports, or land on an elevated deck and charge while crew and passengers can rest in a lounge below. This facility has both workspace and sleeping accommodation and plans are already under way to expand this network.

Beta has also developed immersive flight simulators in Burlington, Vermont, Washington D.C., Maryland and Springfield, Ohio. This includes a curriculum to train pilots on electric powered aircraft, to match the anticipated surge in demand.

Before BLADE and UPS, United Therapeutics was announced as Beta’s first launch customer and will use ALIA to transport human organs for transplants. The U.S. Air Force also continues to participate in the BETA flight test campaigns, as a part of its Agility Prime programme.