Santa Monica-based Surf Airlines Inc., or Surf Air, plans to offer its members unlimited flights between smaller, less congested regional airports on the west coast — in Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
Using eight-passenger aircraft, the company would provide the service for a monthly fee of between $800 and $1,500, depending on the number of reservations a traveler makes, CEO Wade Eyerly said.
The company began accepting membership to its program April 5, but service is not due to begin until it receives final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration — expected sometime in the middle of summer, Eyerly said.
Administration regulations prohibit Eyerly from disclosing the exact start date and planned number of flights per day until the final approval. He said that the company would begin by using two planes, one that visits each of the four airports and one that shuttles directly between Palo Alto and an airport in Los Angeles.
"We would love to be turning a plane constantly every half hour," he said. "If it takes 74 minutes to get down (to Los Angeles) and 84 minutes to get back up, you can make an educated guess at what (the number of flights) would be."
Similar restrictions required that he not disclose which airport in Los Angeles the company would use.
Eyerly called small airports "America's most underused infrastructure," saying that half of them operate at 10 percent capacity.
In the fourth quarter of 2011, Palo Alto's airport had 500 take-offs and landings — just 60 percent of the airport's 30-year high, said Bob Lennox, vice president of the Palo Alto Airport Association.
"There's plenty of room for growth of operations," he said, noting that he wouldn't think congestion would be a problem even if there were 20 more "operations" — the term used to describe single take-off and a single landing.
Carl Honaker, director of airports for Santa Clara County, said operations include flight-school "touch and go's," a maneuver in which a plane lands and takes off again before stopping.
"So if a student in flight training does six touch and go's, then that's 12 operations," he said.
Palo Alto is the base of operations to only one chartered airline, Centurion Flight Services, but Honaker said many chartered flights come in and out of the airport. Those that land there must pay for the space they use, but they may also buy fuel, use airport services and potentially rent cars.
Ralph Britton, the airport association's president, said a business like Surf Air could be a boon to the airport.
"Any extra use for anyone who wants to use the Palo Alto airport for commercial use — as a way for people to get around — as opposed to those who do it for fun is a valuable thing," he said. He called Palo Alto "the sweet spot" — a middle point between San Jose and San Francisco that's populated with the likes of attorneys, engineers and venture capitalists, all of whom he thinks would use his service.
Eyerly said Surf Air is still in the process of raising seed funding from investors. He would not disclose numbers or name investors until the funding round has closed. Eyerly said Surf Air received support from Los Angeles-based incubator Muckerlab, including $21,000 in funding.
Eyerly, a former intelligence officer and an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney, founded the company with his brother David, a former manager at Frontier Airlines.
Possible routes for future expansion could include from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or Palo Alto to Sacramento, Tahoe and Napa, he said.