New York, U.S-based Blade, an aviation startup co-founded by former Sony and Warner Music Group executive Rob Wiesenthal and GroupMe co-founder Steve Martocci, is starting its operations in India in March 2019, with its maiden flight taking off between Mumbai and Pune.
Touted as “Uber-for-Helipcopters”, BLADE is a digitally-powered aviation startup that allows users to create their own crowdsourced flights or purchase seats on pre-existing flights that are usually short distance.
BLADE is said to be setting up its India subsidiary called “Blade India” in a joint venture with a Delhi-based equity investment firm, Hunch Ventures. The joint venture has not yet settled on prices for its India service, but promises to price the flights significantly lower than private chartered jets.
Rob Wiesenthal, CEO of BLADE, told a business daily that that charter flights between Mahalaxmi and Shirdi currently costs around $8,000 but by using BLADE’s application, one can share the helicopter ride by booking a single seat. This will lead to cutting down the price and thus making these charter flights available for a cheaper rate.
BLADE will work on the asset-light model and thus, the company will not purchase flights but will tie-up with charter flight operators on a “contractual basis”.
In India, BLADE will essentially be the service aggregator which will provide services to those who wish to book a seat for the route. BLADE will use integrated technology in three formats — The app, which will be available on Android and iOS, and An accounting dashboard, which will monitor the back-end work and a cockpit software.
BLADE is in the midst of getting permission from the Airports Authority of India and the Civil Aviation Ministry to set up BLADE lounges at all the start points of the routes. While BLADE is headquartered in Delhi, the company will start its operations in Mumbai due “security issues at Delhi” said Karanpal Singh, Founder of Hunch Ventures.
BLADE has roped in Amar Abrol, a former CEO and MD of AirAisa, to head the India operations and will be CEO of BALDE India unit.
“Initially, BLADE will operate three times a week or four times a week. The goal however after a couple of quarters is to cater to a larger audience and in multiple cities,” Abrol said.
Backed by prestigious American investors including Colony Northstar, Raine Ventures and David Zaslav, President & CEO of the TV channel Discovery, BLADE has raised a total of $44 million in funding over three rounds.
To take the services offered by BLADE, passengers have to download its app (available for both iOS or Android) , sign up for an account, and enter additional information such as a valid phone number and credit card details. When a passenger wants to fly, he or she opens the app and selects an existing flight to join at a time that works for them. If no times work for the passenger, he or she can crowdsource their own flight at a more convenient time; any remaining seats on a crowdsourced flight may then go on to be sold to other flyers through the digital community BLADE provides in-app.
In India BLADE would compete with Delhi-based JetSetGO, an India’s first marketplace for private jets and helicopters backed by cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s startup fund YouWeCan Ventures. Touted as “Uber of Indian skies”, JetSEtGO was founded in 2014 by Kanika Tekriwal and has recently acquired Indo Pacific Aviation Limited , the country’s oldest non-scheduled aircraft operator (NSOP).
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