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The high-priced world of helicopter service is about to go high-tech.
A new company called Blade is launching a service between New York and the Hamptons this week, with plans to expand to other vacation spots of the rich in the future. What sets Blade apart from other chopper services is technology—it uses an app that make flying easier, faster and cheaper.
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Rather than calling a reservation center and dealing with charter companies, Blade clients can book their flight with just three taps on their iPhone. If they can't find a convenient flight, they can charter their own chopper and sell seats on it by using Blade's crowdsourcing function.
Think of it as Sidecar for the helicopter set.
"We are in a very app-centric world," said Evan Licht, general manager of Blade. "You order food, look at clothes, you don't have to leave your apartment, let alone let go of something in your hand, to be able to get everything that you want." With the Blade app, "you do these three taps, and you can be on your helicopter within 10 minutes."
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It's not cheap. A one-way trip from Manhattan to the Hamptons will run you around $500. That's comparable or slightly less than other services. But Blade can make it cheaper if you charter your own chopper for around $2,700. If you sell the six other seats, you can cut your own ticket price to less than half that price.
Licht said that while the price is steep, the time saved is well worth it. Driving to East Hampton at the height of summer can take more than three hours. A chopper ride is 45 minutes. Licht said that that someone taking a chopper every weekend to and from East Hampton saves two-and-a-half days over the course of the season.
"So we're giving you two-and-a-half more days of summer," he said. "It's a short season. Many people have rented houses and the cost of renting houses is a lot. It makes them feel a lot better to finish up a hard day's work, get on a helicopter and be at their house enjoying their family in 30 minutes."
Blade is not buying helicopters. It's partnering with Liberty Helicopters of New York, which has a large fleet and top safety record.
Blade also offers something other charter companies don't: a weather guarantee in the form of a Maserati. If you're a Blade user and your flight is grounded due to weather, Blade gives you a credit for another flight and a driver gets you to the Hamptons in a Maserati. (This is through a partnership with Long Island New York Maserati.)
Blade is even considering a real-estate partnership so that people flying out to the Hamptons can do some beachfront real-estate shopping along the way.
The best verification of Blade's worth, however, will be when clients fly out over Long Island and see their fellow Hamptonites stuck in traffic.
"You talk about validating your purchase instantaneously, it's wonderful," Licht said. "If you're lucky to identify friends' cars down below, it's something to talk about over drinks later on."