A new airline is coming soon to San Diego. And in an industry where most major carriers have started making money for the first time in decades; traditional carriers based at Lindbergh Field may experience the loss of the highly profitable business-class passenger. That’s what Surf Air claims is happening in the five cities it currently serves.
Surf Air is the nation’s first all-you-can-fly airline. Based out of L.A., the private membership airline provides up to 28 flights daily for its members, offering unlimited travel out of Burbank, Hawthorne (L.A. Metro), Santa Barbara, San Carlos (Bay Area), and Lake Tahoe/Truckee airports. On weekends it offers flights to Las Vegas.
Charging a membership fee as low as $1,600 month, the airline promotes itself to the frequent regional business or leisure traveler, pointing to the rising cost of full-fare, business class, commercial flights.
Co-founder Wade Eyerly said in a recent interview on L.A.’s KFI radio that a Surf Air member can arrive at their terminal’s free parking lot, be met by a concierge representative, and be on board within a few minutes — no long lines, baggage fees, nor TSA check points. Reservations can be made from a smartphone and purchased up to three minutes before a departure. In L.A., Surf Air uses the less-crowded Hawthorne airport, just six minutes east of LAX, off the 105 freeway.
No word yet on which airport Surf Air will try to use in San Diego. Because the firm generally flies out of smaller, less expensive and more accessible local airports, one would assume the airline would use Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa. Coveted landing spots at Lindbergh come at a high price for a start-up airline — having to beg with the corporate checkbook to rent gates from the established airlines that don’t want the competition. (That’s what kept Southwest Airlines out of serving Denver for decades.)
On August 11, Surf Air announced through airline and aircraft industry media the purchase of 15 additional planes, plus an option to purchase 50 more over the next five years.
The airline flies Pilatus PC-12 NG’s, a Swiss-manufactured, single-engine turbo-prop plane, outfitted with a luxury cabin (designed by the BMW Design Group), with seating for up to eight passengers.
On August 12, director of Surf Air’s media, Alana Watkins told this reporter, “This growth will allow for increased membership capacity and expansion to new destinations.” The firm’s website shows expansion to not only San Diego, but twelve other possible cities as well; Sacramento, Palm Springs, Mammoth Lakes, and Scottsdale.
San Diego was originally planned to be served in about a year. But after the acquisition of the new planes, San Diegians will be served sooner.
Wade Eyerly and his co-founder brother, David, were at MuckerLab, an L.A.-based business think tank, and came upon the idea. A group was discussing what industries no longer work well. Airlines were an obvious answer.
Wade Eyerly said, “We could all come up with a multitude of reasons why.” The group then focused on designing an airline that would be different from any other airline, from the ground up.
Thus Surf Air was born in 2012, and began flying in 2013. The start-up has raised over $17 million in investor equity, together with a recent $65 million loan to purchase the additional aircraft.
According to an article in Barron’s, in February 2014 the company had 430 members with thousands on the waiting list. But membership has been limited to avoid system overload.
Surf Air, not being a “public” airline, has found FAA approval much quicker than Carlsbad’s now failed-to-get-off-the-ground California Pacific Airlines. CP Air tried for three years to receive FAA certification to hub at Palomar Airport and fly to five other destinations.
Eventually, after repeated FAA delays, the CP Air staff had to be permanently furloughed and the planes returned to the leaseholder. Ninety-four-year-old founder, Ted Vallas, of Rancho Santa Fe, reportedly is trying to buy an existing commuter airline to transform into his vision for California Pacific.