A recent article called outnewly-launched Surf Air – a tiny, members-only luxury airline offering unlimited flights for one set price – noting that “passengers should know that the company is not required to meet the same safety standards as the scheduled airlines they usually book tickets on.” True enough, as far as it goes – the little airline is not legally bound to meet the same standards – but it may not tell the whole story [see air travel analyst Rick Seaney discuss all this in the video below].
Commuter vs. Airline Requirements
According to the article, Surf Air with its 8-seat turboprop planes operates as a “commuter” under Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations and that means in part different pilot qualification requirements: “For example, a Part 135 commuter captain is not required to hold an airline transport pilot certificate, the highest pilot’s license granted by the FAA, but can fly with just a commercial pilot certificate.” What’s seems to be missing from the story is the requirements vs. what Surf Air actually does.
Surf Air – “Above and Beyond”
FareCompare contacted CEO Wade Eyerly who told us Surf Air goes “above and beyond” required standards and cited licensing and two other areas in particular:
- Licensing: As the article noted, a commuter captain is not required to hold an airline transport pilot certificate, but according to Eyerly, all Surf Air captains do have this certificate.
- Pilots: Eyerly also stated the FAA requires only one pilot in the cockpit of Surf Air’s Pilatus PC-12 aircraft but Surf Air always has two pilots in the cockpit.
- Maintenance: As a commuter, Surf Air is not required to do nightly maintenance on its planes, said Eyerly but that’s exactly what they do do.
Why exceed the standards? As Eyerly put it, “We can’t be just 99% safe. There’s a moral obligation to get this right, and so we do.” He was asked point-blank if Surf Air is as safe, for example, as Delta or Southwest. His response was an unqualified yes.
See Rick Seaney talk about Surf Air on the Willis Report: