For Blade Air Mobility, arranging organ transportation flights is a lucrative side business that, unlike its core business of booking short-distance passenger flights, has seen no adverse impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s reason enough for the company to invest in growing its MediMobility division, which it did this week through the $23 million acquisition of Trinity Air Medical, a multi-modal organ logistics and transportation company that operates in 16 states.
According to Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal, however, the expansion is likely to offer an additional benefit: accelerating the adoption of eVTOL aircraft, or what the company calls electric vertical aircraft (EVA). That’s because organ transportation flights — which typically carry only a limited number of medical personnel, if they have passengers at all — offer a promising way to trial new EVA models before launching them in high-stakes passenger service.
“There’s so many things we don’t know about how pilots and passengers are going to react to EVA,” Wiesenthal told eVTOL.com. Using EVA to move donor organs between hospitals is an opportunity to evaluate the noise, performance, and creature comforts of newly certified aircraft while simultaneously demonstrating their societal benefit — paving the way for their smooth entry into service as urban air taxis.
“We’re 100% convinced that people will react well to the idea,” Wiesenthal said. “It’s a really big win for us if we can get it done.”
Blade currently uses helicopters for the majority of its MediMobility and urban air mobility flights. The company does not operate aircraft itself, instead contracting with third-party air carriers for flight services. Trinity likewise has an asset-light business model and has historically contracted with ground ambulance and jet providers for its organ transport missions. Now, as part of Blade, Trinity will also leverage helicopters for the time and cost savings they can offer with point-to-point transportation.
In announcing the deal last week, Wiesenthal explained: “Given the existence of landing pads at most hospitals today, we have the ability to immediately replace Trinity’s ambulances with helicopters on certain hospital-to-hospital missions, while preparing for a transition to both existing ‘last-mile’ cargo drones as well as electric vertical aircraft, as soon as they become available.”
Wiesenthal told eVTOL.com that Blade expects to deploy drones in its organ transport business even before EVA. The company is in active discussions with potential drone providers, he said, but has yet to announce any deals. There’s already some precedent for this, as the first human kidney to be delivered by drone was successfully transplanted into a patient at the University of Maryland Medical Center in 2019.
Meanwhile, Blade has already announced partnerships with several EVA developers, including Beta Technologies, Wisk, and Eve Urban Air Mobility. Of the three, Beta has the earliest timeline for certification, with first deliveries of its all-electric Alia aircraft expected in 2024. (Beta also has a separate partnership with United Therapeutics, which plans to use Alia to deliver its own restored and manufactured organs to hospitals for transplants.)
For most organ transplants, time is of the essence: The less time an organ spends outside of a human body, the better the recipient’s chances for a favorable outcome. The time savings afforded by air transportation is why there’s significant demand for organ flights, even using expensive conventional aircraft.
Blade’s MediMobility and jet revenues grew to $6.5 million in the most recent fiscal quarter, compared to $2.6 million for the same period in 2020. Meanwhile, Trinity had revenues of approximately $16 million in calendar year 2020. With the acquisition, Blade expects the combined company to be the largest dedicated organ air transport arranger in the United States.
That could give Blade a uniquely profitable method for trialing electric air taxis, compared to competing urban air mobility operators who must find other ways to gain initial operational experience. As Wiesenthal put it: “We have a business today that reduces the risk tomorrow for EVA.”