SANTA MONICA—On Friday, April 14, to Sunday, April 16, the first weekend of the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was held in Indio, California, in the Coachella Valley, where artists such as Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, and Radiohead all made appearances. An aviation company known as the “Uber of helicopters,” Blade, launched its service this weekend at the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) to take passengers to the festival. A total of seven flights were scheduled for the duration of the festival which wraps on Sunday, April 23.
According to the company website, Blade “leverages mobile technology and an on-the-ground customer experience network” to allow customers to enjoy air travel on a private aircraft at a significantly reduced price, through the convenience of a mobile app. The East Coast-based service is supported by investors including David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery Networks, Bob Pittman, CEO of iHeartRadio, and Barry Diller, Chairman of IAC, Inc.
A 50-minute flight from Santa Monica to an airport adjacent to Coachella costs $695 each way, a trip that is approximately 2 hours by car. A service lounge was prepared for festival-goers over the weekend.
On Friday, before the first helicopter had taken flight, Santa Monica residents started sending emails to City Hall, demanding that the flights be stopped. They questioned the legality of Blade’s services under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and city ordinances. The complaints claimed that while charter flights are legal, scheduled passenger flights out of a general aviation airport are not.
In March, the Santa Monica City Council approved a contract to begin shortening the SMO runway by 1,500 feet, in preparation for its long-term goal of shutting the airport down by December 2028. Activists who maintain that the airport negatively impacts the community questioned how Blade was allowed to operate in the face of the consent decree. They also questioned how the flights might affect airport traffic, though reports show that helicopter operations have been declining every year.
According to reports, Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole reached out to Evan Licht, the president of Blade, for more information.
“Evan Licht, President of Blade, returned my call,” Cole wrote in an email response to complaints. “He assured me that they have no plans for scheduled flights at SMO beyond the Coachella weekend. This is the second year they have offered such flights. They are, however, commencing operations in Southern California which will mean brokering traditional charter flights at various airports including ours.”
“We will be taking a close look immediately at ensuring their full compliance with all relevant federal and local regulations,” Cole wrote.
It is unclear how Blade’s services may fit in with the City’s goals and the regulations on the airport.