December 8, 2023
Commercial air service returns to Purdue University Airport
Purdue University and Surf Air Mobility and Southern Airways Express enter agreement for air service between Purdue University Airport and Chicago O’Hare Airport starting 2024
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University and Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE: SRFM) have agreed to begin scheduled commuter air service between West Lafayette/Purdue University Airport (LAF) and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) with a target start date in early second quarter 2024. This marks the return of commercial air service for the first time since 2004 to LAF, Indiana’s second-busiest airport in terms of total annual aircraft operations.
Purdue University has a renowned history in aviation that includes Amelia Earhart, who was an instructor and advisor in careers for women. Earhart flew out of Purdue University Airport in the 1930s, when it became the nation’s first university-owned airport.
Purdue and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation will provide funding to support the air service’s establishment and ongoing operations. Flight operations will be run by Southern Airways Express, an airline subsidiary of Surf Air Mobility. Southern Airways will operate flights between LAF and ORD seven days a week, with 24 weekly round-trip flights currently planned.
University officials said it is thanks to support from the community, region and state, local corporate partners, local government, and Greater Lafayette Commerce (GLC), among others, that made possible the return of air service to the region. Earlier in 2023, the university approved runway improvement through Federal Aviation Administration funding, and the region funded a new terminal through the READI program from IEDC.
Commercial air service is part of the “Purdue Flies” initiative, which will expand Discovery Park District at Purdue; serve the Greater Lafayette community; further accelerate economic growth; and synergize with the teaching, research and innovation of the future of modern air mobility that amplify the heritage of flying at Purdue University.
Pending Board of Trustees approval in February, the new terminal will be named for Amelia Earhart, thanks to approval from the Earhart estate. The approximately 8,000-square-foot facility — to be located west of the existing terminal — will include a waiting area, baggage claim, ticketing, passenger screening and public restrooms. It will be constructed to comply with Transportation Security Administration and FAA requirements.
In addition, Purdue trustees have approved a plan to finance, construct and award construction contracts for the rehabilitation of a Purdue University Airport runway. The project will repave Runway 5/23. Also, a small connector taxiway will be relocated and reconstructed, and a second taxiway that is no longer used will be eliminated. Work is scheduled to start in May 2024 and be completed in June 2024.
The Purdue Flies initiative furthers Purdue President Mung Chiang’s ABCD strategy, in which the A stands for airport and aims to provide the university’s students, faculty, staff and families, as well as residents and businesses in the Greater Lafayette area, with easier, faster connections to the world via O’Hare, the fourth-busiest airport in America. With air service between LAF and O’Hare, travelers will be able to skip the multi-hour drive, traffic congestion, offsite parking, shuttle train, and long security and luggage lines, and instead fly directly into the terminals and walk gate to gate.
“Purdue and the neighboring community are pleased to welcome Southern Airways Express to the Purdue University Airport,” Chiang said. “We could not do this without the outstanding support of Gov. Eric Holcomb, IEDC, the mayors of both Lafayette and West Lafayette, GLC, the FAA and countless others. With the economic growth momentum here, I know that Purdue faculty, staff, students and alumni will be thrilled for the university and local communities to once again have direct access to the global aviation network after 20 years without scheduled commercial airline service.
“Additionally, as home to one of the top aviation technology and aerospace engineering programs in the country, we look forward to exploring innovation, educational and career opportunities for our students. ‘Purdue Flies’ delivers our ABCD strategy to serve the state and country, further accelerating job creation and prosperity in Greater Lafayette. And the opportunity to honor Amelia Earhart makes it even more special.”
Surf Air Mobility has existing federal contracts through the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, in which it operates subsidized 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 program 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 Surf 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.”
Through Southern’s interline and distribution agreements with United Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, West Lafayette passengers will be able to have a seamless connection experience at the hub, including through-bag transfer, and they will also be able to purchase tickets on United.com, aa.com and AlaskaAir.com.
“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 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. With new airline service from Southern and the new passenger terminal coming next year, it is an exciting time for the Purdue University Airport. And more destinations are to come, we hope.”
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 passenger terminal, hangar space and ramp access for Southern’s personnel. Southern will also offer job opportunities pre- and post-graduation for qualified students.
What they are saying
David Rosenberg, Indiana secretary of commerce:
“This is an exciting day and an important milestone for all of our great partners at Purdue University, the Lafayette-West Lafayette community, the state of Indiana and our ongoing talent retention and attraction efforts. As a state, and under the leadership of Gov. Eric J. Holcomb, we are investing in quality of place and quality of life like never before. Increased connectivity — particularly to and from a truly global destination like Purdue — is a significant contributor to advancing community and economic vitality, and we are thrilled to welcome Southern Airways to Indiana, reviving commercial air service for students, educators, innovators and visitors alike.”
John Dennis, West Lafayette mayor:
“The idea of having an airport here that can support a major carrier is absolutely phenomenal. It’s great on the social level, it’s great on the international level, and, obviously, it’s super great on the economic level.”
Tony Roswarski, Lafayette mayor:
“We’ve been working on bringing back commercial air service for several years. We’ve all committed $7 million [in Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI, funds] to help do the upgrades and construct the terminal that’s needed to make this possible. It’s been a collaborative community effort to bring all these pieces together.”
Scott Walker, President and CEO, Greater Lafayette Commerce:
“Commercial service at the Purdue Airport matters to businesses, which make strategic location decisions that then get noticed by the development community. Leisure is also a big activity in this area. Having a carrier that can allow residents to get to their destinations easier will also be a significant enhancement to our quality of life in the Greater Lafayette region.”
About Purdue University
Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last five years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://stories.purdue.edu.
About Surf Air Mobility
Surf Air Mobility is a Los Angeles-based regional air mobility platform expanding the category of regional air travel to reinvent flying through the power of electrification. In an effort to substantially reduce the cost and environmental impact of flying and as the operator of the largest commuter airline in the U.S., Surf Air Mobility intends to develop powertrain technology with its commercial partners to electrify existing fleets and bring electrified aircraft to market at scale. The management team has deep experience and expertise across aviation, electrification and consumer technology.