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Startup airline enters Napa market, targeting high-income leisure travelers

The newest way to get to Napa from Southern California comes at a cost of $2,000 for a round-trip ticket. But that may work for the well-heeled traveler with disposable income looking for relaxation.

Aero, which flies leisure travelers in and out of targeted tourism destinations, is now providing flights into the Napa County Airport from Van Nuys, according to the company.

Aero bills itself as a semi-private, first-class airline with white-glove service that includes “hosts who provide seamless service at every travel turn. From booking a driver, to making sure your favorite drink is on board, Aero’s concierge team handles every detail with elegance and grace,” according to its press release. In-flight service also includes luxury chocolates and a sampling of premier wines. The jet cabin interiors are customized with hand-stitched Italian leather seats, state-of-the-art lighting and a custom sound system, according to the release.

The Napa route began April 23 and became Aero’s second destination in its domestic launch, which began in February with flights to Aspen, according to CEO Uma Subramanian. Aero, which launched in 2019 serving several European markets from London, also will be introducing domestic flights from Van Nuys to Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

A one-way ticket from Van Nuys to Napa on its 16-seat jets costs $1,000, Subramanian said.

“People have tried this model before, but they’ve focused on business travelers and the leisure traveler has been really underserved,” Subramanian said. “We believe that we can give you a radically better experience for not much more than what a business-class flight would cost.”

Air travel, she added, has long been commoditized.

“People will spend thousands of dollars on a hotel and then scrounge around on Expedia looking for the cheapest possible airfare,” Subramanian said. “(It) has always been that air travel is something to be suffered through, and we don't believe that has to be the case. We believe that air travel can be radical and that the experience could and should reflect that.”

Aero offers its Van Nuys to Napa flights on Fridays and Sundays for weekend leisure travelers going either direction.

For Napa’s tourism economy, Aero’s arrival is welcome, said Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley.

“While likely not a significant driver, we are certainly pleased to see the addition of Aero’s direct-flight service between Napa Valley and Los Angeles, as it provides a streamlined way for L.A.-based luxury travelers to seamlessly enter our destination,” Gallagher said. “Los Angeles is a top market for Napa Valley visitation, and we know that luxury travelers stay longer and contribute more tourism dollars to our local economy, which is crucial as we enter the (pandemic) recovery phase.”

The ongoing pandemic has not been a deterrent for Aero expanding its flight service, said Subramanian.

“COVID is probably the best thing that happened to us because we fly small airplanes between private terminals and you don't have the kind of mass-like crowd travel experience,” she said.

As a semi-private charter service, Aero works with fixed-based-operators at private terminals. FBOs are companies that manage operations at private airports, handling aviation needs that include aircraft management and maintenance, and concierge services, for example.

Lynx is the sole fixed-base-operator at Napa County Airport, said Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, but negotiations are underway to add a second.

“If we have another FBO, they’re going to be obviously creating jobs to support that additional FBO, and they're also going to be providing more economic revenue to the airport in the county,” Pedroza said. “It's millions of dollars in investments and the county stands to benefit from that, which would benefit the airport and it would benefit the county in having more revenues to invest in our community.”

Subramanian said both Sonoma and Napa’s wine regions are coveted destinations, but Aero has no current plans to fly into Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

“We're focusing on Napa first (so) we want to see how it goes,” she said. “We have been thinking about Sonoma but the data says Napa at the moment. We'll add Sonoma if we see that there's demand for that route.”

This story has been corrected to state Aero flies on Fridays and Sundays.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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