BLADE Operating Standards and Flight Safety FAQs
As we have done each summer, we wanted to reacquaint you with not only our operating standards, policies regarding safety and aviation safety in general, but also clarify the operational differences between the various types and models of aircraft you may utilize.
How BLADE Selects Its Operators
The operators who own, manage, and maintain aircraft in our accessible fleet have been specifically chosen to work with BLADE based on consistently high safety standards, industry leading equipment maintenance programs, and conservative operating protocols. They have been vetted by BLADE and third-party rotorcraft industry experts and are audited by our Chief of Safety (see bio below) on a quarterly basis.
All of our operators are subject to regulation under FAA 14 CFR 135, which prescribes a much higher level of oversight by the FAA over BLADE flights versus operations in privately owned and operated helicopters. These more stringent safety regulations applicable to commercial helicopter operations contribute to a reduced incident rate that is less than half the rate for non-commercial helicopter flights.
Additionally, as part of our safety program, as specifically designed for BLADE by our Head of Safety, many of our standards are more stringent than what is required by FAA 14 CFR 135.
All passengers must supply a valid government ID for check-in at all BLADE departure points. BLADE digitally verifies the names of all passengers, records flier weight, and determines the dimensions and weight of baggage to ensure that they fall within the specifications of the operator and FAA mandates. BLADE also assists operators in arranging passengers in specific seats within aircraft based on considerations for center-of-gravity and size or weight of the individuals flying. Pilots make the final determinations based on the aforementioned assessments.
BLADE trains all of its on-the-ground representatives in "fit-to-fly" passenger assessments. We reserve the right to prohibit passengers from flying who are unruly, intoxicated, disruptive, or otherwise unfit to fly in the sole determination of BLADE and/or its operators. Our in-lounge Customer Experience Team ("C/X Team") is trained to make recommendations to our operators. Cigarette smoking, electronic cigarette smoking, and vaping are prohibited in the BLADE Lounges and on aircraft.
Frequently Asked Questions
Since pilots have greater flexibility when taking off in inclement weather, seaplane flights have a lesser chance of weather cancellations than helicopter flights.
Additionally, any passenger over 200 pounds will be more comfortable on a seaplane as they are generally more spacious than helicopters. Seaplanes also have greater flexibility for baggage dimensions.
Seaplanes operated by BLADE have two pilots and instrument capability ('IFR'). IFR technology enables a greater ability to fly in inclement weather.
BLADE's New York-based seaplanes can only depart or arrive on the East Side of Manhattan. If your ultimate destination is on the West Side, you will have a faster door-to-door arrival if you choose to fly to BLADE Lounge West by helicopter (or BLADE Lounge Wall Street by helicopter if your ultimate destination is TriBeCa or the Financial District).
Finally, with respect to safety, the incident rates for seaplanes versus helicopters is statistically insignificant for passenger operations in the contiguous U.S.
All helicopter, seaplane, and land plane flights sold by BLADE on a by-the-seat, crowdsourced, or charter basis are operated on jet turbine powered aircraft. Each BLADE operator is vetted for safety and reliability to ensure the highest level of service.
Twin-engine helicopter designs are adopted largely for the ability to carry a heavier aircraft fuselage, including a quiet cocoon cabin, as well as to maximize passenger and luggage weight limits, not for operational redundancy from a safety perspective.
Typically, BLADE's operators will make the choice for you based on the type of aircraft used. Cabin class helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-76 are always flown with two pilots for all operations.
BLADE will cancel a flight when our team believes the flight may experience an above average level of turbulence. This is not an issue of safety, but rather a precaution to ensure passengers do not feel uncomfortable.
BLADE will also cancel a flight when there is a reasonable chance that weather at the ultimate destination may cause a flight to be diverted to an airport or heliport significantly far from the scheduled destination.
While weather diversions always remain a possibility regardless of our meteorological expectations, BLADE takes it upon itself to obtain ground transportation upon landing to get fliers to their final destinations.
Yes. While most people believe helicopters cannot fly without engine power, they in fact can safely glide for sustained distances in a safety procedure called auto-rotation. Comprehensive auto-rotation exercises are completed by all FAA certified pilots during training.
Less than 10% of incidents involving helicopters reported to the FAA involve passenger helicopter operations (excluding sightseeing and doors-off flights) versus other types of helicopter missions. The vast majority of incidents occur when helicopters are conducting missions such as pilot training exercises, aircraft repositioning, non-commercial personal flying, and utilities/construction work.
There has not been a non-sightseeing Part 135 (on-demand commercial air carrier) helicopter accident in New York City in the last 18 years (the period in which data is easily accessible from the FAA). It is estimated that there are approximately 3 fatal accidents for every 1 million Part 135 helicopter flight hours, according to the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, an affiliate of the FAA and the NTSB.
On June 10th, 2019, an Agusta 109 twin-engine helicopter crashed on the roof a building in midtown Manhattan. No passengers were on board. The pilot perished. Our view is that is was an avoidable tragedy and here are the key facts:
The weather was not flyable and all commercial helicopter and seaplane traffic was grounded for weather reasons, including BLADE’s operators. In fact, certain commercial airports closed for periods of time as well.
The Agusta was privately owned and operated for its owner and not subject to the FAA standards under which BLADE’s operators fly.
While a final assessment has not been made by the NTSB as to the cause of the incident, third-party experts achieved a quick consensus based on video, radio communications, visibility and cloud ceilings at the time, that the pilot became visually disoriented and was unable to use instrumentation (for which he was not certified nor trained to use) to keep the aircraft stable, at proper altitudes or in the correct direction.
On May 15th, 2019, a Bell 206 helicopter made an emergency landing from approximately 100 feet above the Hudson River and safely landed on all four pontoon floats (as per the NTSB preliminary report). While we remain uncertain as to why the pilot chose to initiate the procedure, it was properly executed and the pilot immediately exited the aircraft unharmed and in fact, returned to the helicopter cabin to remove personal effects.
The pilot no longer works for Zip Aviation, the operator of the aircraft. After an immediate secondary audit of Zip, BLADE’s Head of Safety deemed Zip meeting or exceeding all of our requirements for safety (as well as the FAA’s) to operate BLADE missions.
Meet BLADE's Chief of Safety
Meet Edward Schulze III. Ed is a leader in the national helicopter community with 35 years of experience working in military, police, counter-terrorism, and corporate capacities. His past experience include positions on the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Bureau, NYPD Aviation Unit, Helicopter Pilot in Command for Cablevision Systems, and as a captain on a Sikorsky 76C++ for the Associated Aircraft Group.
2011 - 2017: Standards Captain, Cablevision Systems Flight Department
2010 - 2011: Captain, Associated Aircraft Group
2008 - 2010: Sergeant/Supervisor, NYPD Counter-Terrorism Bureau
1995 - 2008: Helicopter Pilot / Sergeant, NYPD Aviation Unit
1990 - 1995: Police Officer, New York Police Department
1984 - 2005: Aviation Safety Officer, New York Army National Guard