There’s exciting news this week from two small but innovative California-based carriers that could put them on a strong growth track. JetSuite, a small-plane public charter operator in the California corridor and elsewhere, announced an equity partnership with a major U.S. airline; and Surf Air, which employs an all-you-can-fly pricing model, is talking about a major fleet expansion – and it said it will extend its operations to Europe starting next month.
JetSuite Inc. said that JetBlue Airways has taken a minority stake in the company, an investment that it said will help to “fuel its fast-growing JetSuiteX service.” JetSuiteX uses 30-passenger jets on a network that includes Burbank; San Jose; Las Vegas; Carlsbad, Calif.; Concord, Calif.; Mammoth, Calif.; and Bozeman, Mont. JetSuiteX promises “more destinations and flights coming soon,” and claims to be the fastest-growing public charter company in the country.
From the Bay Area, JetSuiteX offers nonstops between Concord (in the East Bay) and Burbank. (Its Concord-Las Vegas nonstops were cut in May). From San Jose (using the Atlantic Aviation terminal), it flies to Burbank and Carlsbad (near San Diego). Currently, fares are running as low as $79 on a handful of flights each week in November. In December, the lowest fares are at about $99 each way.
JetSuiteX markets its flights as “a private jet experience that is affordable and accessible to a broad audience.” JetSuite CEO Alex Wilcox said JetBlue will not be just a passive shareholder, but a “strategic partner” that will “allow us to accelerate our growth.” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes commented that acquiring a stake in JetSuite “makes sense as we continue to execute on our west coast plan and invest in innovative ideas that reflect the disruptive spirit of JetBlue.”
The two had already created a customer loyalty link, with TrueBlue members able to earn points on JetSuiteX flights. Among the points currently served by JetSuiteX, JetBlue flies to San Jose, Burbank and Las Vegas. JetBlue has been beefing up its west coast presence lately – for example, it said it will launch multiple daily flights between San Jose and Long Beach in January – as it positions itself for tough competition from a combined Alaska Airlines-Virgin America after those two companies complete their merger.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica-based Surf Air – which operates even smaller planes and calls itself “an all-you-can-fly private air travel club” – is said to be in talks with Brazilian manufacturer Embraer for a major fleet expansion. Media reports from Brazil said Surf Air is looking to buy up to 50 small Phenom 300 executive jets, an order worth about $495 million.
The Phenom 300, which can carry seven to nine passengers, is Embraer’s most popular business jet. The reports quoted Surf Air’s CEO as saying that the company is also talking to U.S. manufacturer Textron about its Cessna Citation CJ4 business jets.
Surf Air operates executive private aircraft on scheduled flights around an intrastate California network that includes airports in the Bay Area, metro Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Truckee/Tahoe, Napa, Monterey, Sacramento and Palm Springs, as well as Las Vegas.
Surf Air needs more planes in part to accommodate its planned expansion to intra-European markets, which is now planned to get under way at the end of November. Its monthly membership fees there will start at $2,400. It will begin with flights between London’s Luton Airport and Zurich, and then gradually expand to add flights to Geneva, Cannes, Paris, Dublin, Ibiza and Amsterdam.