How Surf Air is Breaking into the Airline Industry

September 7, 2012

11:00 am

Two weeks ago, Surf Air made quite a hefty purchase: three Pilatus PC-12s, eight-passenger luxury planes with leather seats and lots of legroom.

It’s a milestone in their quest to start a new, all-you-can-fly airline. With the help of cofounder Dave Eyerly, a commercial pilot who used to run operations for Frontier Airlines at Dallas-Fort Worth, they chose to start with the Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Monterey, and Santa Barbara airports in California. For $790 or more per month, travelers get up to six reservations at a time.

To start an airline, companies are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to submit manuals – a thousand pages, in Surf Air’s case – on operating safety, maintenance, pilots and crew, and crisis management. The next step is to prove you can execute on that plan, so Surf Air hired the “three wise men”: a chief pilot, director of operations, and director of maintenance. They also added a director of training and a safety officer, following the best practices of established airlines.

“In the end of the day, they want to look you in the eyes and know that you’re going to be able to fly planes safely,” says cofounder Wade Eyerly, Dave’s brother.

In addition, the Department of Transportation does an economic fitness test to make sure airlines won’t cut corners on maintenance. Luckily, Surf Air has $4 million in Series A funding and some seed money from MuckerLab to help. But the Los Angeles startup is still waiting for approval from both agencies.

“It’s the government; there’s not a timeline,” says Wade Eyerly, who worked in national defense and served in Iraq. “They’re not going to tell you, ‘We’ll have it to you on Tuesday.’ They’re going to tell you, ‘We’ll check it out and let you know.’”

In the meantime, he and his team have started hiring pilots. Before the interviews began, Wade Eyerly called up a bunch of other airlines to get some hiring tips, and even sat down with the HR director of JetSuite. Surf Air is looking for pilots who can offer outstanding, personalized customer service to cater to their business clientele.

“Some pilots – they call it ‘getting on a plane and turning left.’ Head to the cockpit and never see you again. And those aren’t the right guys or girls for us.”

All these regulations and preparations seem to have delayed their launch a bit. In June, Surf Air was aiming for “late summer 2012,” but now the target is sometime this year.

Surf Air was a showcased startup at our Tech Cocktail Los Angeles mixer in August.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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