Dennis Kish of Rancho Santa Fe and pilot Rick Barreto
Another new airline took flight out of McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad on October 17. It is the fourth such airline to try doing business out of the North County airport since United Express pulled out in April of 2015. The other three have failed, never got off the ground, or suspended flights.
Starting with direct flights to San Jose, JetSuite has been offering private charters since 2008. JetSuite currently serves Burbank, Concord, San Jose, and Las Vegas with “public” charters — regularly scheduled flight days and times where the public may purchase tickets and get aboard.
However, the two airport gates, four ticket counters, and the TSA screening area in the passenger terminal remain vacant. JetSuite instead flies out of the Atlantic Charter terminal. Being a public charter, there is no TSA screening. “We do random screenings ourselves,” said Brian Coulter, vice president of flight operations for JetSuite. Since already an established private charter service, JetSuite didn’t need permits from the county-run airport to begin offering flights to the public.
The Carlsbad flights will fly direct to the Bay Area — San Jose International — at 7:45 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The return flight will leave San Jose at 5:00 p.m. the same day.
The one-way fare aboard their four-passenger Embraer Phenom 100 jet is $499. The first passenger aboard the maiden flight was Dennis Kish of Rancho Santa Fe. He works in the Bay Area. “When I saw what they were offering I booked within five minutes,” said Kish.
“We’ve been looking at Carlsbad as an origin or destination for some time now,” said Coulter. “When Surf Air ceased flights to San Jose [from Carlsbad] their members approached us asking if we could offer flights”
Surf Air, a membership-based concierge airline that started serving Carlsbad in November 2014, has ended its Carlsbad-to-San Jose flights. Of 12 California destinations, only 3 can be reached directly from Carlsbad — Burbank, Hawthorne, and Santa Barbara. Surf Air was the second airline to try flying out of Carlsbad since United’s departure.
The third airline that tried Carlsbad, and shuttered 60 days later, was BizAir Shuttle. Offering 30-passenger daily jet flights to LAX and Las Vegas, BizAir was unable to link up with larger carriers as transfer flight partners and discount booking websites such as Travelocity and Kayak. They were basically flying air — not passengers, and quickly burned through a $2 million private investment.
Of that failed business model, JetSuite’s Coulter says, “If you’re looking to link up with other airlines, JetSuite is not for you.” JetSuite will fly direct only to destination airports.
The biggest cheerleader for a Carlsbad airline has been 95-year-old Ted Valles of Rancho Santa Fe. Since 2010, Valles has tried to get FAA approval to, as he says, “put the fun back in to flying,” with his plans for a Carlsbad-based, hometown airline, California Pacific Airlines. (Surf Air, BizAir, and now JetSuite were chartered airlines, thus avoiding much of the FAA permitting process.)
With mostly his own millions invested, Valles had a leased 30-passenger jet, options for five additional jets, hired maintenance and operational employees, and secured airport gates and routes, but faltered on several attempts to receive permitting by the FAA.
Last March, Valles announced an expansion arrangement with a small regional carrier, Savi Airlines, hubbed in Bellingham, Washington, thus avoiding rigorous FAA scrutiny for a startup airline. He expected to be “wheels up” with his new airline within six months.
San Diego County land-use communications officer Alex Bell said, “There is nothing to report regarding California Pacific Airlines. A potential commercial service provider should not officially announce planned commercial service until they receive the county’s approval,” he said, alluding to requirements before an airline can go "wheels up," including: ground lease for the terminal and ramp areas, environmental reviews, and all other federal approvals through the FAA and TSA.
“I understand he [Valles] is still trying to get in,” said JetSuite’s Coulter.