An aviation operator has filed a lawsuit that alleges that Surf Air — a California private jet service that bought a Dallas startup — owes it more than $3.1 million in overdue payments.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by Encompass Aviation, which served as exclusive carrier for Surf Air’s flights in California for about a year. It alleges that Surf Air fell behind in payments almost immediately after signing a contract with Encompass in May 2017. The lawsuit says that Surf Air recently terminated business with Encompass and signed a contract with another operator, despite the back-payments.
Encompass is seeking $3.1 million of overdue payments and unspecified damages for breach of contract.
Surf Air has been called for comment.
Tradewind Aviation’s vice president David Zipkin declined to comment when asked if Surf Air has been making timely payments.
The lawsuit filed by Encompass says Surf Air was required by its contract to pay for flights two weeks in advance, but it never did so. The aviation operator alleges in the lawsuit that Surf Air is in financial distress and has left its customers “with inferior service, insufficient capacity, and fewer options.”
Encompass president and CEO Steve Harfst said Encompass worked hard to support Surf Air and never canceled flights, even though Surf Air wasn’t paying its bills.
“I didn’t want to hurt the business,” he said. “If we did that, all of the people who paid for their memberships and expected to have flights wouldn’t have them. We tried to be a good business partner and keep the business alive.”
But Harfst said he reached the breaking point when Surf Air terminated
Santa Monica-based Surf Air offers its membership-based aviation service in California and Texas — but it does not own its planes and uses aviation operators to maintain and fly them. It charges passengers a membership fee for unlimited flights. Members skip the typical hassles that come with commercial travel, such as long security lines and waiting at the airport terminal. Instead, they can shuttle to cities throughout the state on smaller jets and request other, longer-distance destinations. The service caters to frequent fliers, such as people who commute between Los Angeles and San Francisco or Dallas and Austin.
Surf Air memberships start at $1,950 per month for all-you-can-fly service, but the company also offers pay-as-you-fly and group rates. There is an initiation fee of $1,000.
Surf Air expanded to Texas after buying a Dallas startup, Rise, for an undisclosed sum in 2017. Rise was Dallas’ first home-grown private jet club when it began flying in 2015. After the acquisition, Rise’s CEO Nick Kennedy became Surf Air’s president.
Surf Air’s flights in Texas are operated by Tradewind Aviation and they fly to Dallas, Austin, Houston and Midland. In Dallas, Surf Air customers depart and land at Love Field.
business agreement and walked away without paying its bills.