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Surf Air launches subsidised commuter service in Chicago
The new airline service from Surf Air subsidiary Southern Airways Express and a passenger terminal for 2024 means easier, faster connections to Chicago via Purdue University airport.

Surf Air Mobility is to begin scheduled commuter air service between West Lafayette/Purdue University and Chicago O'Hare airports from early in the second quarter of 2024. Purdue University will provide funds to support the establishment and ongoing operations of the air service, and flight operations will be run by Southern Airways Express, an airline subsidiary of Surf Air.

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 Chicago O'Hare airport, the fourth busiest airport in America, with the under-utilised regional airport immediately adjacent to Purdue's campus. It means travellers arriving via O'Hare will be able to skip the multi-hour drive and fly directly to West Lafayette on one of up to four daily flights.

Surf Air Mobility has existing federal contracts through the Essential Air Service (EAS) programme, operating subsidised routes connecting communities that otherwise lack access to minimal 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," says Surf Air CEO Stan Little. "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."

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. Through Southern's interline and distribution agreements with airlines United, American and Alaska, West Lafayette passengers will be able to have a seamless connection at the hub, including through-bag transfer, and they will also be able to purchase tickets on the airlines' websites.

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.

"This is a win for all Lafayette and West Lafayette area residents," says Purdue vice president for administrative operations Rob Wynkoop. "No longer will we have to deal with the uncertainty of the 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.

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