Another wave of the novel coronavirus has seized the city of Mumbai and beyond. A weekend getaway to a wellness centre could be one of the ways to escape the unease. Although, it might seem like a fantasy, Mumbaikaars can now book a helicopter to visit a wellness centre.
The chopper services are offered by BLADE India and the wellness destination is Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa in the Sahyadri mountains. Booking the helicopter warrants a discount of 15% on stay at the resort. To get started, download the BLADE India app. It’s as simple as booking an Uber.
BLADE is a US-based urban air mobility company that launched in India in April 2019. Their operations in India are run by Hunch ventures, a privately held investment firm from New Delhi. Apart from Shillim, the company is pursuing tie-ups with luxury hotel chains expecting a pick-up in travel for leisure and wellness.
Exactly a year ago, when cities were reeling under the uncertainties of the novel coronavirus and medical services were in short supply, their helicopters came to the rescue. “Our aircrafts were available for medical emergencies and essential travel during the lockdown,” says Karanpal Singh, founder of Hunch Ventures. Currently, they are operational in Maharashtra and Karnataka and will expand to Goa and Uttarakhand in a few months.
In an interview with Mint, Singh talks about how commuting within and around cities are poised to change. Edited excerpts:
Why did you introduce an urban air mobility service?
The appeal of this mode of commute lies in traveling with a small trusted group and saving time. In December 2019 when the U2 concert took place in the outskirts of Mumbai, we ferried attendees to the venue from the heart of the city. On the road or via the local train, it is a journey of roughly two hours. On a helicopter, the travel time was reduced to 10 minutes. In Maharashtra, we are trying to solve the Mumbai-to-Shirdi 7-hour drive and reduce it to 45 mins. In Pune, we are experimenting with an intercity transport system. For destinations like Shillim, Lonavala and Amby Valley, we want to introduce it as a daily commute or leisure service. In Karnataka, we are trying to solve the airport issue because it is located far away from the city and the road traffic could be a nightmare.
What about infrastructure for urban air mobility?
We don’t need to invest in large land plots, like an airport. We require much smaller areas for creating vertiports for take-off and landing. In Mumbai, we have one vertiport in Mahalakshmi and another in Juhu. In Shirdi, we created a vertiport near the shrine for easy access. We can create these vertiports anywhere we want.
How did the pandemic help you?
In general, the pandemic helped the travel industry. People use a service like ours because they can travel in small groups and avoid crowded airports. We have seen a rise in demand. For example, we had an average of 50 to 55 percent occupancy before the pandemic and in March, we were running at almost 75-80 percent. With work-from-home becoming the norm, we’ve seen Mumbaikars work out of the city and nearby destinations, like Amby Valley. We are now curating programs to allow people to commute conveniently and work from elsewhere. Picture a scenario when you can go to office once or twice a week, and then conveniently fly out, without the hassle of road traffic and tolls, to be amidst nature with a laptop in hand. This is what we want to offer.
How much does one have to pay to book you flights?
The minimum fare for one seat is ₹5000 while booking a charter costs ₹1.9 lakhs. So, for Amby Valley, the fare is about ₹5000 and Pune is about Rs. 11000. We are trying to expand our fleet with partners like Belle and Airbus. This in turn will bring down our prices.
Your services helped the medical fraternity last year. Do you want to explore transport services in this area?
Going forward this will be a fundamental service for us as we continue to expand to newer markets. Emergency medical relief and access to remote areas are two of the very real problems being solved by air mobility.