Dave Spurlock: Airline chief puts in the hours and mileage piloting all-frills start-up through turbulence

A day in the life of the Chief executive of Eos Airlines
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The Independent Online

The crack of dawn is a relative concept when you're flying over the Atlantic. Which is where you'll find Dave Spurlock, who swapped the world of British Airways for his very own airline, at least once a week. The well-built American is the chief executive of Eos, the premium class-only airline that is named, appropriately enough, after the Greek goddess of the dawn.

Four times a month, Mr Spurlock takes off from New York's JFK for London's Stansted to air-test just how frilly his top-of-the-market carrier really is. Pitched at the polar opposite end of the market to the likes of no-frills Ryanair, Eos is aiming to corner the lucrative business travel market. Launched last October, the US-owned airline already claims it is breaking even, managing to sell at least seven in every 10 seats on some of its flights.

Back in New York, where Mr Spurlock can be found when he's not airborne, 6am feels slightly more real as he manoeuvres himself out of bed. Silently, ideally, or he'll wake one of his three children and incur the wrath of his wife, Amy. His newest, Elizabeth, is just seven months old; for a while it was a toss-up as to who would be born first, her or the airline. (Elizabeth Paige Spurlock only narrowly avoided a middle name starting with "O"...)


It's just 14 short minutes in his car from the Spurlock residence to Eos HQ, via the obligatory "triple-shot cappuccino" at the local Starbucks. For the Eos boss, mornings are sacrosanct. He says he does all his best thinking first thing. Given that nearly $100m (£54m) of private money has been sunk into getting the eight-month-old airline off the ground, it's crucial that Mr Spurlock's thoughts are more than just pipe dreams. "What's unique about me is I'm a very creative thinker. I'll have just an overload of creative thoughts in the morning," he says.

The airline's offices are based in the corporate hub of Purchase, New York, which is where you'll find such Dow Jones titans as Pepsi Co, IBM and Kraft. For a nascent airline with just one daily flight between New York and London, Eos employs a lot of people: 180 full-time. Nearly half of those are based in the Purchase office. The first slew of the day's meetings will be held over the phone or with whichever executives are actually in the building. "The nature of a start-up is juggling and the whole executive team juggles. And that means we're very fluid." Or translated into English, Mr Spurlock rarely knows whom he'll find in the building.


The one burning question, day in, day out, that Mr Spurlock needs answering is: what is this week's load factor looking like? That is the crucial industry measure that dictates the success or failure of any given airline - well, that and how much money it costs to run. The Eos airline is a 757, which makes it cheaper to run because it uses less fuel. Eos said this week that its load factor hit 60 per cent in May, which apparently for a premium airline is not bad. This week coming, that figure has jumped to 75 per cent, which means the carrier is no longer making a loss on a daily basis once you exclude everyday corporate costs.

At up to $3,250 (£1,855) return, a ticket to board Eos is still being pitched at significantly less than its BA or Virgin equivalent. This will change, warns Mr Spurlock, who is not fussed about competing on price. More important is providing the type of luxurious service that will win not only repeat business but also word-of-mouth recommendations. "The number of times I've had CEO-level people get off our flight and then personally connect Eos to their 20 top colleagues and connections - countless. It comes down to the fact that these people realise they've just been in a Porsche and the rest of the industry is producing Buicks," as he puts it.

Mr Spurlock, who left BA after five years because he and his fellow American wife needed to return to the States to hospitalise their baby son, is convinced that top-end travel is a genuine gap in the market. Much as there was at the bottom end when his idol, Southwest Airlines, started up three decades ago.

He thinks the rush of me-too, no-frills carriers that the like of easyJet spawned over here provoked legacy airlines such as BA to take their eye off the ball.

The airline industry, he says, is rather like the US car industry, where Ford and General Motors have been squeezed at the bottom end by cheap Japanese imports and at the top end by BMW and Mercedes Benz. "That means they [BA et al] under-invested and under-delivered to the upper end of the market, which left them vulnerable."

Hence you now have, in addition to Eos, a rival called Maxjet, which started flying across the Atlantic last November, and a third contender called Silverjet due to hit the market in the autumn. (For his part, Mr Spurlock says only Eos is offering a true all-frills service. Eos is the only one to have flat beds and 21 feet of cabin space per person; Maxjet makes do with reclining seats more akin to BA's World Traveller Plus or Virgin Atlantic's Premium Economy.)


Lunch on board a typical Eos flight, which carries only 48 passengers, could be anything from a fillet of sole to fillet of beef in a peppercorn sauce with a Bellini cocktail to wash it down. But back in Mr Spurlock's office, it tends to be a plate of sandwiches, which he'll share with a fellow executive. Then it's time to chew over the afternoon's issues, which tend to be more substantive than the morning's blue-sky thinking.

"With a start-up, you're going through so many different issues. So we could be looking at future product investment one minute and the next we could be looking at our competitive position because we see a price change from BA." That's if he's not holding one of the seemingly endless interviews that he's conducted to build up the group's staff base.


For Mr Spurlock, the evening is the time to get down to the serious US business of schmoozing the sort of wealthy customers Eos needs to make ends meet. "This is a David versus Goliath, and that means you have to run twice as fast, train three times as hard, but it's a self-fulfilling prophecy," he says of the need to miss dinner with his kids. Instead, he'll be doing anything from taking his sales team out for dinner to keep them motivated to attending fancy charity dinners or wining and dining his potential passengers. Eos has more than 100 corporate accounts - the bread and butter of the business class travel world - and they include seven of the world's top 10 investment banks. In other words, precisely the sort of people who want to emerge refreshed and ready for business and don't care how much it costs when they step off a flight.


After a 14-hour day, Mr Spurlock arrives home. He may have missed dinner, but because work is only a 14-minute drive from home he swears he gets more than most dads' fair share of ballet recitals and "mini school graduations". He needs to get to bed early because he needs his sleep. Otherwise it's bye-bye creative thinking. And bye-bye his shareholders' $100m.