Surf Air Seeks a Netflix Solution for Private Aviation
The California-based private aviation company takes challenges on the chin as it works through various concepts in cost-efficient, private point-to-point air transport.
by Lark Gould
What started as a turbulent year for Surf Air is looking more peaceful and potentially profitable as 2019 moves forward. The airline is in the throes of settling a spate of grinding legal challenges and moving ahead with massive improvements to its scheduled service and membership growth.
A recent lawsuit against Encompass Aviation, its former flight operating partner, has been settled. Under the terms of the settlement, Surf Air has regained full access to its entire fleet of branded Pilatus PC-12s that are being deployed on the West Coast in some highly trafficked routes.
"By doubling down on our most popular routes and eliminating non-core flying we have proven route profitability and that the fundamental business model works. Our plan for 2019 is to continue to invest further into these core markets and expand access to Surf Air through new, more flexible membership product offerings," says Surf Air Chairman & CEO Sudhin Shahani.
To that end Surf is rebuilding its core schedule and adding more flights across its most important destinations: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Lake Tahoe. The company will continue to add flights as it continues to acquire more members.
Surf Air works on a membership model at present, much like Netflix. The company got started in in 2011, as one of the many new models coming into the market that have earned the tag of “Uber in the skies” for the creative options they gives flyers who want to explore their transport choices outside of scheduled commercial air.
The upstart company has been developing ways to democratize private air travel and make it available to those who would otherwise not consider it. It took the Netflix model of all you can watch and applied it to flying. Seats are available for a monthly membership payment of around $2000 as a starter rate. Flights, as with Uber rides, can be booked from an app in one’s smartphone. The basic membership tier allows for two reservations per month along with unlimited stand-by opportunities.
A new “express” concept is being rolled out that will require a payment of $2,500 once per year, then members may purchase single seats starting at $500 per flight as needed. This option is targeted at those who fly less frequently. Another payment option would be good for groups or corporate memberships: 10 tickets for $5000 each month.
Surf Air’s routes are limited at present but the company planning to add destinations. These may include Las Vegas, Napa, Monterey, and Palm Springs with a concept for promoting leisure weekend destinations, especially to business travelers looking to add bleisure into the mix and match it with the glamour of private air travel. Other routes in store may be in Texas between Dallas, Houston and Austin.
For business travelers, much about the Surf Air model makes sense. Passengers do not need to deal with long lines and TSA hassles. They do not need to worry about their luggage making it to the destination or whether their carry-on is too large. They simply show up at the designated private aviation facility or small airport 15 minutes before departure, and prepare to take off. The flights are short and sweet and perfect for the slower, lighter aircraft.