Elvis has left the terminal, the tarmac, the plane...

Carlsbad-based Biz Air stops flying, ceases operation

Biz Air's former counter at McClellan-Palomar Airport
  • Biz Air's former counter at McClellan-Palomar Airport

How does one blow through millions of dollars quickly? Start an airline.

Such is the case of Chicago’s Dan Cretsinger and his family, who started Biz Air Shuttle in June. Based in Carlsbad, Biz Air was North County’s only airline with a regular schedule. The airline formally advised the airport authority that it ceased operations September 2. The employees were released and terminal and gate signage was removed by September 4.

Elvis sings on board Biz Air Shuttle

Elvis sings on board Biz Air Shuttle

It was just over a month ago, July 28, that the terminal at McClellan-Palomar Airport was buzzing full of excited passengers, government, and business leaders, and even happy TSA agents. An Elvis impersonator greeted everyone with photos and song to celebrate Biz Air’s inaugural service to Las Vegas.

The company, flying 30-passenger Brazilian-made Embraer 135 jets, had started twice-a-day service to LAX on June 18.

“There was big hopes for them,” said Michele Slattery, owner of the Landings Restaurant next to the terminal. “They were nice people, but it seemed like they ran out of money and perhaps didn’t plan ahead with advertising to the entire community, not just to the business community.”

Perhaps Biz Air started up too quickly, unable to establish a major air-carrier partner for connecting flights. They also had trouble getting listed with travel agents and airline discounters such as Priceline, Kayak, or Travelocity. Ricardo Gomez, director of operations, said previously, “Those relationships take time.”

On the July 28 maiden flight to Vegas, Cretsinger confided that the LAX flights weren’t doing well. “The most we’ve had [per flight] is five passengers,” he said. But, still optimistic, Cretsinger said he was hoping to expand into the San Francisco Bay area, through LAX, to increase passengers flying north, out of Carlsbad.

At a cost of around $6500 to fly the jet from Carlsbad to LAX or Vegas, time quickly burned through invested dollars, most of it Cretsinger’s own money.

Three weeks ago, the airline stopped its service to LAX. “It’s just temporary,” said then director of sales Patricia Gunn. Biz Air was supposed to start service to Phoenix this month.

Biz Air Shuttle was touted as a great replacement when United Airlines/SkyWest pulled out of Carlsbad in April — not because business was bad but because SkyWest changed equipment, went to larger planes that could no longer land at Palomar’s shorter runway.

Over at the private Premiere Jet terminal, SurfAir, a concierge, membership airline, started twice-a-day service to L.A. last November. According to SurfAir’s gate agent Julissa, the airline now offers daily service six times a day from Carlsbad, to San Carlos (Bay Area), Santa Barbara, and the L.A. area. The SurfAir website states more California destinations should open in the next year, including Bakersfield, Mammoth Lakes, San Diego, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Ana. Julissa said most flights on their eight-passenger prop planes are “pretty full.”

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Here we have this lovely little terminal building that was going to improve the quality of life for No County residents. And it sits shuttered and unused. Wanna go to LAX to connect with a long-haul flight? You can drive, hire a shuttle, or take the Amtrak Surfliner and then a shuttle. Charter a plane? Good luck.

You mention Surf Air, and it does seem to have a working business model. As a subscription service, it caters to the frequent business traveler with a generous expense account, or the affluent. But from what I've learned, their flights into and out of Premier Air at Palomar tend to run full or nearly full.

Biz Air's misadventure is probably due to all the things mentioned, and not staying the course long enough for it to catch on. Lack of money will do that to good businesses. I do wonder if those Embraer jets were too big for a startup. There are smaller craft that should cost less to operate.

In a word, the whole thing is a bummer.

Bad as their situation is, it's not as sad as Haggen.

Business schools in the future will be using Haggen as an example of what NOT to do, if planning to expand into a new market area. [The North Park Haggen is still hanging on by a thread. I don't think it can survive.] As for Biz Air, why didn't it fly to Palm Springs instead? No airline does from here.

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