Surf Air Mobility and Purdue University will run a scheduled commuter air service between West Lafayette/ Purdue University Airport (LAF) and Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD).

The target start date for the new service is early in the second quarter of 2024. Purdue University will provide funds to support the establishment and ongoing operations of the air service. The flight operations will be run by Southern Airways Express (Southern), an airline subsidiary of Surf Air Mobility.

The goal of this programme is to provide Purdue University’s students, faculty, staff, and families, as well as residents and businesses of West Lafayette, with easier, faster connections to the world via the fourth busiest airport in America (ORD) via the underutilised regional airport immediately adjacent to Purdue’s campus (LAF). With air service directly into LAF, travellers arriving via O’Hare will be able to skip the multi-hour drive, flying directly to West Lafayette on one of up to four daily flights.

We hope this will be a model we can replicate with other non-urban universities and private companies in the future

Stan Little, Surf Air Mobility

Surf Air Mobility has existing federal contracts through the Essential Air Service (EAS) programme, operating subsidised routes connecting communities that otherwise lack access to basic air service. The agreement with Purdue University replicates the EAS model with a private institution, without the need for federal funding.

“We’re excited to take the basic principle of the EAS programme and build on its success with Purdue University,” said Stan Little, CEO of Surf Air Mobility. “We hope this will be a model we can replicate with other non-urban universities and private companies in the future. As the growth in regional air mobility continues, partners like Purdue University will be integral to accelerating a new kind of mass transportation solution that uses smaller aircraft connecting smaller regional airports to the nation’s air infrastructure.”

Stan Little Southern Airways Express CEO

Surf Air Mobility CEO Stan Little hopes to replicate the model with other non-urban universities and private companies

With 24 weekly round trip flights currently planned, the agreement will bring scheduled air service back to this route for the first time in nearly 20 years. Passengers will benefit from Southern’s interline and distribution agreements with United, American, and Alaska Airlines.

Southern will operate these flights using Cessna Grand Caravan turboprop aircraft, with nine passenger seats and two pilots. The flights will be open to the general public, and Purdue will provide the use of its refurbished passenger terminal, hangar space, and ramp access for Southern’s personnel. Southern will also offer job opportunities pre- and post-graduation for qualified students. Purdue will have the opportunity to recoup some, or all, of its investment should passenger counts exceed projected levels.

“Today’s announcement is a win for all Lafayette and West Lafayette area residents,” said Rob Wynkoop, Purdue vice president for administrative operations. “No longer will we have to deal with a long drive to take advantage of all the flights and destinations that O’Hare has to offer. Passengers will save money and time while being able to support their local airport. With a new airline service from Southern and the new passenger terminal coming next year, it is an exciting time for the Purdue University Airport.”

Surf Air Mobility is also the largest commuter airline in the United States by scheduled departures.

Main image: Purdue University