Thursday, May 31, 2012
No planes, no FAA approval? Apparently no problem for Surf Air, a would-be luxury airline with a business model modeled after Netflix.
The company doesn’t actually own or operate an aircraft yet. It’s still waiting for the green light from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the website. But it claims it will get off the ground this summer, offering passengers $1,000 monthly subscriptions for unlimited travel between four destinations: Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara and Monterey.
“This is America’s wealth corridor,” says company founder and CEO Wade Eyerly. “We are helping connect the entertainment center in L.A. to the technology talent in San Francisco. That is why this is the perfect time to start an airline even though the economy is down.”
Eyerly, a former staffer at the Department of Defense, left Washington, D.C. in January to launch Surf Air in California. He says Surf Air’s subscription model accommodates high-income earners in two groups: business people over the age of 45 who travel for work, and single males over age 28. “These guys I gotta assume are taking girls on dates to Pebble Beach or flying up to dinner in San Francisco,” Eyerly says.
Surf Air’s website claims the airline will launch a 90-day demonstration period with 500 subscribers this summer. But according to the FAA, Surf Air is far from meeting that timeline.
“THESE GUYS… ARE TAKING GIRLS ON DATES TO PEBBLE BEACH OR FLYING UP TO DINNER IN SAN FRANCISCO.”
“We have had informal conversations with company representatives, but they have not yet submitted any paperwork to us to begin the formal certification process,” FAA spokesman Ian McGregor says. “The timeframe for an airline certification process depends on the size and scope of the proposed operation, and typically takes well over a year to complete.”
Another air travel service with a creative business model is targeting the same luxury market. Canada-based AirSprint, which expanded in 2011 to the Southwestern U.S., is piloting a “jet share” service: Passengers become fractional owners, with share sizes determined by how often they fly. For example, a one-sixteenth share of an AirSprint aircraft costs $242,500 up front, plus a monthly maintenance fee of $5,308 and an occupied hourly rate of $1,430.
Carmel resident Jerry Colangelo, an AirSprint share owner and spokesman, says the service is worth every penny. “Time is money,” he says. “When you get over the issue of the ultimate cost of going private versus commercial, and you see how much work you can get done on a private plane and how many stops you can get, you see [its value].”
Eyerly says Surf Air is more than a way to capitalize on California’s coastal elite: It’s an opportunity to provide jobs to veteran military pilots. “We recognized that there is not a great career path for [military] pilots,” he says. “You either go fly skydiver planes, join the military or quit.”
Surf Air is a bold venture in this economy: One in three business start-ups fail, and recent years have seen major national airlines merging and going bankrupt. Even given AirSprint’s apparent early success, there are plenty of reasons Surf Air might never get off the ground.
But failure is not part of Eyerly’s attitude. “Move forward till you complete the mission,” he says.