Since its inception in 2011, California-based Surf Air has cycled through multiple business models in the elusive pursuit of profitability. The company launched as an all-you-can-fly subscription service that promised to extend the convenience of private aviation to a larger market of aerial commuters. For a time, it operated its own aircraft — Pilatus PC-12 eight-passenger turboprops — but it later outsourced its scheduled flights and expanded this “asset-light” model into on-demand charter. In 2018, when interest in blockchain technology was at a peak, it attempted to capitalize on that enthusiasm with Voy, a blockchain-based loyalty program.
Now Surf Air is leaning into the next big trend in general aviation: regional air mobility (RAM). Following a playbook recently popularized by NASA and McKinsey & Company, the company now called Surf Air Mobility has developed a strategy for leveraging digital technologies, artificial intelligence and electric propulsion to revolutionize regional travel. To further its goals, it has lined up impressive partnerships with some of the most credible players in their respective spaces — including Textron Aviation, AeroTEC, MagniX and Palantir Technologies — and will be acquiring Southern Airways, the largest commuter airline by scheduled departures in the U.S.
Most significantly, because some of its partnerships are contingent upon its shares being publicly traded by July 31, 2023, Surf Air Mobility is pursuing a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange and expects to begin trading on or around July 27. As part of that process, it has shared extensive details on its operations and future plans, exposing many investors to the concept of RAM for the first time, along with the pieces (many of which don’t yet exist) that will need to fall into place to make it work.
As it chases a first-mover advantage in the regional air mobility space, Surf Air will put that concept to the test. If RAM develops as its proponents hope, it could be a $115 billion global market by 2035. But in its filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Surf Air acknowledges that “the market for regional air mobility has not been established with precision, is still emerging and may not achieve the growth potential we expect” — and that’s even if it successfully executes its ambitious technical plans.
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