Surf Air, a new subscription-only airline, takes off from Burbank

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After 18 months of planning, Surf Air finally took off on Wednesday, with flights from Burbank Bob Hope Airport to San Carlos Airport near San Francisco.

But no one bought tickets for the flights. That’s not how Surf Air works.

Instead, it operates on a subscription model. For a $500 initiation fee and around $1,650 a month, passengers can fly all they want on the airline’s fleet of Pilatus PC-12 single engine turboprops. Each plane is outfitted with six leather seats.

For now, that “unlimited” model is limited only by the fact that the airline has relatively few flights. It’s launching with just four flights in both directions between Burbank and San Carlos, which is also near Silicon Valley. In July, Surf Air will begin serving Santa Barbara with two daily flights from both San Carlos and Burbank.

Airline chief Wade Eyerly said the Surf Air has 150 members, with more than 4,000 people on a waiting list. It will be difficult to add more members until the airline grows, Eyerly said.

“If you are an all you can eat buffet and you run out of food, that’s not good,” he said. “We are trying to control the number of people that get in.”

The airline is based in Santa Monica and Eyerly said he would eventually like to serve that airport. But he said getting clearance to fly from Santa Monica is a bit difficult and noted that Burbank has embraced the carrier.

The airline business is a notoriously difficult one and many new entrants fail. But Eyerly said the subscription model should insulate the airline from some of the usual pitfalls. And he said the airline has raised $11 million from outside groups.

“If we tried to do what ever other airline is doing, I think you could lose $40 million a year,” he said. “What we have done is change (the model) on its head entirely. What you are buying is a satisfying experience.”

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