As determined as my boss, AIN editor-in-chief Matt Thurber, was to win, there was absolutely no way he was going to beat me in a race between the Las Vegas Convention Center’s West Hall and Henderson Executive Airport (KHND).
That’s because he was driving a rented, late-model Ford Escape and I was flying in Blade Urban Air Mobility’s (UAM) Airbus EC130 operated by local outfit Maverick Helicopters. Since Tuesday and in partnership with NBAA, Blade has been operating helicopter shuttles for NBAA-BACE attendees between the convention center and static display for $99 one way. NBAA and Blade are pitching the shuttle flights as a demonstration of what UAM can offer.
Thurber had zero chance of beating me to KHND—it took him 30 minutes while I flew over him in jam-packed early evening traffic. For me, it was an approximately 15-minute journey, cruising at 130 knots, from the time I climbed into the helicopter outside the north end of the Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall and stepped out of it next to Blade’s chalet at the BACE static display.
What he also missed was first-class treatment by Blade’s crews, both at the company’s preflight lounge at the north end of the West Hall and at its static chalet. With an already booked flight, check-in was as easy as showing a Blade attendant a photo ID. And then I was offered my choice of bottled water or a soda as I awaited my flight, sitting on one of the three contemporary couches.
The wait wasn’t long before I and another passenger were led out to a blocked-off section of the Diamond parking lot, where our pilot and helicopter awaited us. After a brief demonstration of how to put on the four-point safety belt, we climbed into the seven-seat cabin, the pilot fired up the light-single helicopter’s 848-shp engine, and we lifted off.
Flying at 350 feet agl, the short ride provided a beautiful backdrop of the blue mountains surrounding Las Vegas at dusk and as we flew over the foothills before making a sharp bank to the left on approach to KHND. After touchdown and upon exiting the helicopter, a Blade golf cart shuttled us to the company’s chalet. There, once again, we were offered a choice of beverages, including adult libations of which I was able to indulge while Thurber was still making his way to KHND.