Taking off: Hudson Yards now has flying cars for CRE tenants

TRD New York /
Mar.March 29, 2019 07:00 AM

Flying cars have landed at Hudson Yards.

UPDATED March 30, 2019 8:30 a.m.: Through a partnership with Blade, a $150 million transportation startup, office tenants at Related Companies’ megadevelopment have access to a five-minute shuttle service to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

As of this week, the four-year-old aviation company is running a continuous weekday flight service from the West 30th Street Heliport — one of three in the city — for $195.

For a glimpse at what the journey is like, check out the video above, which The Real Deal captured on one of Blade’s recent flights.

“That’s finally hit that Uber SUV price point,” said Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal, explaining that the company looked at what popular rideshare services would charge for a rush-hour trip to JFK from Hudson Yards.

Though anyone can book a flight, Blade is offering every Hudson Yards employee $100 off their first ride — with C-level executives receiving deeper discounts or complimentary flights — and an exclusive phone line dedicated to booking their travel, which could be on any of Blade’s offered routes.

The aviation startup says it’s in the process of ironing out deals for corporate rates with some of the companies located in Hudson Yards, and Blade also plans to introduce new services for retailers and restaurants. Those include having a Blade chauffeur ready to ferry a flyer via a golf cart-like vehicle from lunch. For retailers, Blade is working on a service that will pick up and drive its customers’ purchases from a store in Hudson Yards out to the airport where the bags will be secured until it’s time to fly. The company is also planning to offer a delivery service that would allow Hudson Yards’ retailers to send an on-demand item of clothing out to the Hamptons (whether or not the customer is flying with Blade).

But Blade is not just getting into the business of providing amenity services to tenants at Hudson Yards. The company’s services at the megaproject are part of a burgeoning industry known as Urban Air Mobility (UAM), which refers to on-demand, automated air transport for passengers or cargo.

Wieisenthal says UAM concepts are starting to permeate New York’s real estate landscape as well as transportation planning in the name of allowing people to beat increasing traffic and congestion in urban areas. A key part of that future entails buildings outfitted to accommodate aircrafts.

“We will be landing on buildings in the future,” said Wiesenthal, noting that the supporting infrastructure to do it “doesn’t exist without real estate.” And neither, it seems, does Blade.

Colony Capital, a Los Angeles-based real estate and investment management firm, is one of Blade’s largest investors. Blade is helping Colony refurbish helipads throughout its portfolio, according to Wiesenthal. And Colony is facilitating introductions to developers and building owners for Blade to advise on relighting pre-existing helipads or planning for new construction.

In New York, Blade is part of a working group with Vornado Realty Trust for “next generation planning” purposes. (Vornado confirmed the existence of the group, but did not offer immediate comment on one report that noted its Penn Station redevelopment may include a heliport.)

While no other big new developments include plans for a helipad, the feature was included in Amazon’s wish list for its Long Island City campus before the deal went belly up.

Further afield, Blade also has a joint venture with one of the largest co-working companies in India, Hunch Ventures, and is working on developing heliports as a building amenity for its properties.

Acknowledging the uncertainties in the UAM industry, Wiesenthal also described advising an office tower developer to plan an alternative use for a building’s heliport. If local government rules or regulations changed in the three-odd years of construction — or any new neighboring buildings disrupted flight paths — the space wouldn’t be wasted.

Though Wiesenthal believes the proliferation of UAM aircraft is still five to 10 years away, he said property owners “don’t want to have already built a building that hasn’t prepared for that.”

Editor’s Note: A description of Blade as an aircraft operator in the sixth paragraph was changed as the company does not own or operate aircraft. The street address of the heliport was corrected in the second paragraph.

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