Surf Air Says It Secured $200 Million As It Plans To Go Public – Forbes

Perennial private aviation enigma Surf Air says it has secured $200 million in funding as it seeks to go public.

The money is coming from Global Emerging Markets Group, an alternative investment group. The first $50 million will be available when the company goes public. Remaining funds can be tapped over the following three years.

It’s apparently a big bet on Surf Air Mobility’s continuing desire to bring private aviation to the masses.

In February it acquired Blackbird, a marketplace for private aviation flights that had run afoul of the Federal Aviation Administration.

At that time Surf Air was renamed Surf Air Mobility, and the Blackbird moniker was retired.

Sudhin Shahani, Surf Air’s CEO said with Blackbird having closed down the controversial part of its business before the deal, he was attracted by the technology.

Recommended For You

The vision is to serve markets between 50 and 400 miles with a combination of traditional private aircraft and eVTOLs. That’s short for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

MORE FROM FORBESMeet The Jetsons: Why You Soon Might Be Flying To The Office

Joining Shahani will be three high-profile new hires. Fred Reid, who has served as president of Lufthansa German Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Flexjet, and CEO Virgin America, becomes chief strategy officer.

He was also boss at Cora Aircraft Program, now Wisk, the joint venture from Kitty Hawk Corporation and The Boeing Company. He had been serving as an advisor to the CEO of Airbnb.

Carl Albert, another aviation industry veteran and former owner of Fairchild Dornier, and Ed Mady, the U.S. head of ultra-luxury hotel group Dorchester Collection, join the board of directors.

The seemingly buoyant announcement, first reported in the Deals section of Bloomberg yesterday, needs to be tempered against Surf Air’s history of ambitions.

The company first gained national media attention along with upstarts like Wheels Up, JetSmarter, and BlackJet, all seeking to expand private aviation beyond its traditional niche of UHNWs.

When it launched in 2013, intrastate travelers in California had a pleasurable way to avoid big airports, congested terminals or long drives. Using Pilatus PC-12 turboprops with eight seats, it offered members who paid a monthly fee the ability to fly as much as they could at no additional cost.

Passengers showed up minutes before departure and boarded scheduled flights. They saved time flying to local airports not served by the airlines like Hawthorne, San Carlos, and Truckee.

Its first stumbles seemed to come in 2017 when it acquired RISE, a similar operation in Texas, with plans to connect the networks with a series of short-hop flights across the southern U.S..

In the press release announcing the deal, it said “within the next 18 months” Bentonville, Midland, New Orleans, Scottsdale, and Taos would be added for regular service with weekend flights to Cabo San Lucas, Aspen, and Sun Valley.

That growth never came. A deal to outsource its aircraft operations so it could focus on marketing also went bad. Its first agreement ended with a midnight switch of operators and its original partner holding onto most of its PC-12s during extended litigation.

As it was sorting though those problems, it was also moving forward with expansion in Europe. Less than two years later that operation was liquidated.

Then there was VOY, an attempt at creating a blockchain loyalty program for smaller travel companies seeking to compete with the bigger players.

There was also the lien by the IRS for over $2 million in overdue taxes, with the company negotiating a payment plan.

Reid and the others aren’t the first A-list talent attracted by the promise of Surf Air. Jeff Potter, the former CEO of Frontier Airlines, occupied the corner office from 2014 through 2017. Simon Talling-Smith, one of British Airways’ top executives and now commercial head of Qatar Airways, was recruited to lead the expansion in Europe and later VOY.

No matter the challenges, in an industry where there are plenty of carcasses strewn about, Surf Air and Shahani have thus far found a way to live on and fight another day. Now, it appears they have as much as $200 million to support the mission of bringing affordable private flights to your doorstep.

Read the original article