Jeff Potter, President & CEO Surf Air, interviewed by Ross Falconer.
Surf Air has set out to disrupt the commercial airline industry with its short-haul membership service offering unlimited flights for a single monthly fee. Launched in California in 2013, it now has over 3,500 members and operates to 12 destinations along the US West Coast and Silicon Valley.
The carrier operates a dedicated fleet of aircraft on scheduled routes rather than chartering an entire jet or placing people in empty seats on existing private charters. Described as the “Uber” or “Netflix” of air travel, Surf Air is bringing its “all-you-can-fly” service to Europe in 2017, in a sign of the success its disruptive travel model has brought to the industry.
In conversation with Airport Business, Surf Air President & CEO Jeff Potter articulates a clear mission that “combines simplicity, convenience and innovation, giving frequent regional business and leisure travellers a fresh, new way to fly, saving valuable time – and it’s coming to Europe soon.”
Potter has extensive experience in both the ‘membership’ industry and the airline business, having been CEO of Exclusive Resorts and low-cost Frontier Airlines. “Both experiences were instrumental in my interest in Surf Air, but primarily my time with Exclusive Resorts, a destination club that was providing an experience and service to its community of members,” explains Potter.
“What I learnt at Exclusive Resorts provided much of the backdrop and continued focus that we have at Surf Air – specifically knowing that a ‘member’ is very different from a ‘customer’ in terms of their expectations. Indeed, we rely on our member satisfaction to grow the club, as referrals are our most important sales channels. To maintain this high level, we have more rigorous expectations for ourselves than traditional travel providers.”
Surf Air destinations
- Oakland, San Carlos, and San Jose in the San Francisco Bay area
- Hawthorne and Burbank in the Los Angeles area
- Truckee in Lake Tahoe
- Santa Barbara
- Carlsbad in San Diego County
- Palm Springs
- Las Vegas McCarran (through partner carrier Advanced Air)
Europe (from 2017)
- Launch destinations: London Luton, Cannes Mandelieu, Geneva, and Zurich
- Additional destinations: Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, and Barcelona
“Unique needs not previously considered by airports”
Surf Air recently announced its expansion into Europe early next year, offering unlimited air travel to businesses and consumers for a monthly fee of €3,250 for Standard membership, with a €1,300 initiation fee. Launch destinations will include London Luton, Cannes Mandelieu, Geneva, and Zurich. Additionally, Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, and Barcelona are planned for later in 2017. “Initially, we will begin by flying between London and the other European destinations but later, as we see interest grow, we’ll add additional links between these European points.”
The Surf Air business model involves operating out of both private and regular commercial airports. Ideally, it prefers to operate out of its own, branded space that is neither in the terminal nor in an FBO (Fixed Base Operator), with direct ramp access. “The needs are unique and for the most part have not been previously considered by airport operators,” asserts Potter, who also says Surf Air faces many service challenges when it has to operate a scheduled service out of private aviation facilities.
“In economic terms, we try to reach deals that reflect the frequency of our operations rather than the more traditional ‘retail’ terms that are usually applied to private aviation or FBO facilities,” Potter explains.
Expansion into Europe will also see evolution of the Surf Air fleet. It currently operates 12 Pilatus PC-12s – an eight-seat turboprop. In Europe the plans also involve moving into longer haul-models and business jets.
Over the past three years, Surf Air has established the critical foundation for sustained growth. Domestically, it expects to enter several new destinations in California, including Santa Ana, San Diego, Mammoth Lakes, Bakersfield, and San Luis Obispo, as well as Scottsdale, Arizona. “In addition, with 65 aircraft on order, we plan to serve other regions as early as mid-2017, with others to follow in the coming years,” says Potter. “In Europe, based on our early response from prospective members, we expect to see the same strong trajectory in terms of membership acceptance and growth, so we are excited to see these two regions grow at such a strong pace, confirming the need and opportunity for Surf Air’s innovative model.”
Jeff Potter curriculum vitae
President & CEO of Surf Air
- President & CEO of Boyd Group, transportation consulting
- COO Intrawest, operator of six ski resorts
- CEO of Exclusive Resorts
- President & CEO of Frontier Airlines