Golden Gate flies high with luxury airline

The San Francisco firm is leading an $85m equity investment in a new, all business-class airline that will start flying trans-Atlantic routes beginning this fall.

San Francisco-based private equity firm Golden Gate Capital is the lead investor in a new all-business class airline, investing $85 million in the fledgling start-up. Palo Alto, California-based Sutter Hill Ventures and Seattle-based venture capital firm Maveron are co-investing with Golden Gate.

The Purchase, New York-based airline, named Eos Airlines after the Greek goddess of dawn, plans to begin offering flights between London’s Stanstead Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City in early autumn. Unlike conventional airlines, the planes will only feature business class seats.

“Incumbent competitors are coping with severe challenges their ongoing viability and service levels have suffered,” Jesse Rogers, a managing director with Golden Gate, said in a statement. “Our team is targeting the premium traveler frustrated by existing offerings and will provide an experience modeled after leading customer-centric retailers and premium hotels.”

Eos also received $100 million in lease financing for the planes and already has three Boeing 757 aircraft, which are being refitted for the service. Each plane, which would usually seat more than 200 passengers, are being converted to handle 48 business passengers, each getting a bed and 21 square feet of personal space. Tickets will reportedly be priced 20 to 25 percent lower than standard business class fares.

Bonnie Reitz, Eos’ president, said in a statement that the airline hopes to offer a “return to the ‘Concorde-like’ experience of exclusivity and community that is missing from today’s airline market.”

The founder and chief executive officer of Eos is David Spurlock, formerly a director of strategy for British Airways. Another former British Airways executive, Hamish Taylor, is also starting his own premium airline, Fly First, which will reportedly offer service between Newark International Airport and Luton Airport, outside of New York and London, respectively.

Golden Gate has more than $2.6 billion in assets. The firm closed its second fund in 2004 on $1.8 billion, which focuses on buyouts, recapitalizations and growth equity investments in high growth, change-intensive industries.

Malveron, which was co-founded by Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee fame, closed a $200 million venture fund, also in 2004. Sutter Hill Ventures has more than $500 million under management in the technology, financial services, healthcare, consumer products and services sectors. The venture firm has been investing since 1964.