Surf Air Acquires BlackBird Air


Santa Monica general aviation airline Surf Air Inc. announced it has acquired San Francisco-based online aviation marketplace BlackBird Air Inc.

With the acquisition, announced this month, Surf Air is renaming itself Surf Air Mobility Corp. and is moving its corporate headquarters to Hawthorne.

BlackBird founder and Chief Executive Rudd Davis will become Surf Air’s chief operating officer, reporting to current Surf Air Chief Executive Sudhin Shahani.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. But in an email Shahani said, “The deal is north of the $30 million valuation recorded on PitchBook following BlackBird’s fundraising round last year.”

Surf Air, which was founded in 2011, is a cross between a general aviation service and a commercial airline. Individuals can purchase subscription packages for seats on scheduled flights of up to 500 miles between general aviation airports within California and within Texas.

In Southern California, Surf Air’s main airfield is Hawthorne Municipal Airport. According to data provided by Surf Air, the company operated approximately 5,000 flights last year.

BlackBird, founded in 2016, bills itself as the nation’s first online marketplace for general aviation, connecting passengers, private plane owners and charter operators. It arranges charter and general aviation flights but does not operate any of these flights.

Passengers have the option of purchasing open seats on scheduled flights or chartering a plane and pilot. BlackBird arranged more than 3,500 charter flights last year, according to Surf Air.

Both companies focus exclusively on the general aviation short-haul market, which encompasses flights between 50 miles and 500 miles. From the Los Angeles area, that would include trips to the Bay Area; Sacramento; San Diego; Lake Tahoe/Reno, Nev.; Las Vegas; and Phoenix.

Shahani said the deal should expand offerings to fliers seeking to avoid the congestion and waits associated with commercial air travel from airports such as Los Angeles International or San Francisco International.

“We’re in the first phase of a massive industry shift where more fliers are choosing to access the time-savings and optimal experience that only general aviation can provide,” Shahani said in the announcement.

“BlackBird has unlocked the potential of general aviation with a simple consumer experience and by tapping into an existing underutilized asset base to create affordable, on-demand flying. Combining this with our scheduled membership platform will bring increased value and options to both of our customer bases,” he added.

BlackBird’s Davis said in the announcement that the merged company will be able to scale up rapidly by capitalizing on underutilized general aviation airports and aircraft. Because this market is fractured and largely inaccessible, he said, “there is a staggering amount of excess capacity.”

But one local general aviation advocate downplayed any transformative aspect of the deal.

Ed Story, who sits on the boards of the California Pilots Association and the Santa Monica Airport Association, said the deal gives Surf Air access to the customer database compiled by BlackBird.

“This might lead to a modest boost in revenue for Surf Air, but unless I’m missing something, it’s not going to lead to a transformation of the general aviation market in the way that Uber and Lyft have transformed the ride-hailing market,” Story said.

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Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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