By Ben Forrest

Ben is a freelance writer and editor who frequently works with MHM Publishing.

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Blade Europe weighs multiple expansion opportunities

Blade Air Mobility said it has seen a surge in acquisition opportunities in Europe on the heels of news it plans to acquire helicopter-based air taxi services of three major operators on the continent.

Blade helicopter service
Helicopter booking platform Blade is finalizing deals to acquire the charter and scheduled air mobility businesses of Monacair, Héli Sécurité and an unnamed third company in France. Blade Image

The company is finalizing deals to acquire the charter and scheduled air mobility businesses of Monacair, Héli Sécurité and an unnamed third company in France, for a total cash outlay of US$50 million (€48 million), with closing expected by early summer.

“There’s been an increase in the velocity of opportunities presented our way in Europe,” said Rob Wiesenthal, CEO of Blade. “We’re very open to [acquiring more companies]. I think this is a great foundation. We don’t see any need to add on at this point … but we’ll continue to be opportunistic.”

Blade is eyeing Europe as the next major expansion market for its app-based air taxi service, which has previously focused on helicopter passenger shuttles in New York City and Vancouver

Its strategy is to acquire helicopter and fixed-wing services on high-friction routes, later transitioning to eVTOLs — or electric vertical aircraft (EVAs), as Blade prefers to call them — when the technology and infrastructure are ready.

“We need to pick the best rotorcraft routes in the world,” Wiesenthal said. “And because of the traffic and the terrain, southern Europe is fantastic; it’s just a great market. It’s a very helicopter-friendly market, and there’s a robust by-the-seat business.”

Upon closing, Blade would become the exclusive customer of Monacair, Héli Sécurité and the unnamed third company, creating what Blade said is the largest passenger helicopter service in Europe.

Those companies would retain ownership of their aircraft fleets, but all flights would be booked through the Blade website and the Blade smartphone app.

Monacair owns or manages a fleet of 34 helicopters, including Airbus H125, H130, AS355, H135 and H155 models, and at least one Bell 429, Leonardo AW139 and AW109SP model.

The company’s premier offering is a scheduled shuttle service with seven-minute flights from the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport in France to Monaco, using Airbus H130 helicopters.

Héli Sécurité is part of the same parent company that owns Monacair, and primarily offers transfers to the French Riviera and the Alps — including flights from Nice to Monaco and Saint-Tropez.

“It’s one of the few businesses where an acquisition can be less risk than starting from scratch,” Wiesenthal said. “Because you’ve got management, you have trust, you have infrastructure, you have customers … if we think that transaction works for us, and we think we can make it work for the partner, that’s the way we go.”

Blade plans to convert the branding of two existing terminals at the Nice airport and may also have bases of operations in Saint-Tropez and Geneva, Switzerland. The company said it has no plans to build new heliports, and the location of future vertiports is unclear.

“We first have to wait for EVA to arrive,” Wiesenthal said. “I think there are opportunities for other landing zones — private landing zones — in France. But I think the ones that we’re excited about are EVA-only, because they can be closer to city centers, and the noise and emissions are less of a problem.”

Blade intends to remain asset-light when it transitions to eVTOL service, meaning it doesn’t plan to own aircraft.

But the company has an agreement to facilitate the purchase of 20 electric aircraft from Vermont’s Beta Technologies, and Wiesenthal said Blade also has relationships with Wisk Aero and Eve Air Mobility, as well as Seattle-based magniX, which is developing a supplemental type certificate to modify Cessna Caravan with electric engines.

In the meantime, Blade said the year-to-date charter business from its three pending acquisitions is about 30% above the same period in 2019, part of a strong rebound from the height of the pandemic.

“They do have some seasonal aspects to it, so we really have to see what happens in the summer,” Wiesenthal said, pumping the brakes slightly on expectations for future traffic.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of Americans in Europe, and they’re very familiar with Blade — and very comfortable with helicopters — so I’m very optimistic.”

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