Surf Air

What It Is: A California-based all-you-can-fly shared charter-cum-airline program, Surf Air offers per-seat access to Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprops. It serves the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas areas as well as Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Midland in Texas. 

How It Grew: Eager to create an aviation business, Embry Riddle graduate Dave Eyerly and his brother Wade came up with a subscription-based, all-you-can-fly access model to serve commuters traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In 2011, they launched a website promoting the concept that drew some 12,000 responses in six weeks. 

The next year, the brothers founded Surf Air with four partners, and the startup was accepted at the MuckerLab business incubator/accelerator program. After raising $9 million in funding in 2013, the company commenced operations using three Pilatus PC-12s and offering unlimited flights for an annual membership and monthly subscription fee, with higher membership levels allowing more reservations and other perks.

The Eyerlys left Surf Air early in 2014 and were replaced by former airline executive Jeff Potter. The company secured a $65 million loan and $8 million in new investment that August and ordered 15 new PC-12s over five years, with an option for 50 more. Membership reached 2,500 by December 2015 and hit 3,000 the following June.

In 2017 Sudhin Shahani became chairman and CEO, and the company gave Encompass Aviation operational control of its fleet. That same year Surf Air acquired Rise, a program modeled on the California company that linked major Texas cities. Operations in Europe also began that year, and by its end Surf Air reported having 5,000 customers.

Following a 2018 switch in operational control to Advanced Aviation, Encompass sued Surf Air, alleging $3.1 million in overdue payments, and the IRS placed $2.3 million in tax liens on the Santa Monica–based company, which cut back its routes and schedule in response. Its European plans also faltered.

Seeking to widen its customer base, in October 2018 the company introduced Surf Air Express, a lower-cost plan for less-frequent flyers that charges per-seat rates for one annual membership fee; and Shahani announced that the company had signed up a record number of new members in the previous month. Surf Air liquidated its European operations in December 2018 and announced this year that it is settling claims with Encompass, regaining ownership of its fleet, and completing a back-taxes payment plan with the IRS. In November the company announced that it will add flights to its schedule in March 2020.

What It Offers: Membership options include Express ($2,500 per year, with seats starting at $500 each), All-You-Can-Fly (from $1,950 per month), and Group ($5,000 per month).

Surf Air California serves Santa Barbara, San Carlos, Oakland, Hawthorne, and Napa, California; and Truckee and Las Vegas, Nevada. Surf Air Texas (formerly Rise) serves Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Midland.

Do Your Homework Before Flying Privately (We'll Help)

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Notable Distinction: Surf Air introduced all-you-can-fly charter memberships, a new business model that unleashed a flood of novel shuttle, per-seat, and other asset-light aircraft-access programs.


FAST FACTS

Founded: 2012

Headquarters: Santa Monica, California

Employees: About 200

Chairman and CEO: Sudhin Shahani

Website: surfair.com

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