US membership programme Wheels Up raised $117 million ahead of the show, in a third round of equity financing. The investment will be used to fund additional aircraft acquisitions, grow its customer base through a range of sales and marketing efforts, and help the New York-based company to lay the foundations for its European expansion.

Speaking at the show this morning, Wheels Up founder and chief executive Kenny Dichter said the company had raised about $300 million in equity financing since its launch in 2013 on the back of an order with Textron Aviation for 105 Beechcraft King Air 350i. It has taken delivery of 60 of the twin-engined turboprops and also has a fleet of 15 Citation Excel/XLS superlight business jets. “We expect to take another 20 aircraft next year, to keep pace with demand from our growing membership,” says Dichter.

Wheels up boasts 4,000 members – with an annual retention rate of 90% – and expects to increase this tally to 10,000 by 2020 and up to 30,000 by 2030. “We are well on our way to becoming the best private aviation company in the world,” says Dichter. “We have already created demand that didn’t exist before by disrupting and democratising private aviation and bringing it to the masses.”

Dichter hopes to be in Europe by the end of next year. “We are just waiting to see how Brexit works out,” he says.

Source: Flight International