By Jonathan Friedman
April 21, 2017 --The outcry over the helicopter company Blade flying passengers from Santa Monica Airport to the
Coachella music festival last week raises uncertain permitting issues similar to
those swirling around the Uber rideshare services it is compared to.
City Manager Rick Cole weighed in on the discussion this week with The
Lookout, saying Blade exists "in grayish areas of the law that will have to be
The controversy errupted last Friday when Blade, described as "the Uber of
Helicopter Service," began flying from SMO to the festival in the Inland Empire,
"Helicopters Flying from Santa Monica Airport to Coachella Festival Spark New Controversy," April 18, 2017).
Cole responded to a string of emails from residents and activists over the weekend saying he was told by the
president of the company that Blade did not plan to start scheduling regular flights.
If Blade decides to go in that direction, then licensing and permitting
issues would come into play, City officials said.
"Any business operating in Santa Monica should have a business license," said
Constance Farrell, the City's public information officer. "Blade does not have
one at this time."
In an email to The Lookout this week, Cole expanded on the permitting issue
relating to Blade, which has booked $695-per-seat one-way trips to the festival
for the final shows this weekend.
"The reality is that the service walks a fine line between what requires and
what doesn't require permits," Cole wrote. "Two weekends of a handful of flights
did not seem like the best ground to test the legality of their approach.
"If and when they seek to establish regular flights, I can assure you the
City will insist on full compliance with applicable law," Cole said.
Like Uber, Blade -- which was launched three years ago and is headquartered in New York -- operates as a
go-between that connects passengers with independent contractors that provide
the rides. The uproar over Blade is the latest in many decades-worth of controversies
A major breakthrough in the ongoing conflicts was
reached earlier this year when the City and the federal government agreed to
close the airport at the end of 2028 (FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).
Among the features included in the agreement is that the airport runway will
be shortened almost immediately--preventing larger jets from using the facility.
The City Council has already selected a company to do this work, and a
"stakeholder meeting" will take place on Tuesday at the Air Museum from 10 a.m.
to 12 p.m. to talk about project specifics.