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NBAA: Wheels Up plots path to expansion

US membership programme Wheels Up has announced an ambitious plan to grow its annual revenues by 150% by 2021, through a mixture of organic growth, partnerships and company acquisitions. Membership numbers are also expected to double over the same period to 10,000.

“We will exit 2018 with $400 million in revenues. By the end of 2021 we expect to be on a $1 billion revenue run-rate,” says Wheels Up founder and chief executive Kenny Dichter.

He notes that the New York–based venture “is well on its way to becoming the best private aviation company in the world”. Wheels Up, Dichter continues, is creating demand that did not exist before, by disrupting and democratising private aviation and bringing it to the masses. “We are now looking to consolidate and strengthen our offering,” says Dichter.

Wheels Up is seeking to acquire or partner with established “asset light” management companies to help broaden its growing fleet of 93 business aircraft and keep its members within the Wheels Up family.

“We spend around $90 million a year providing supplemental lift from the charter market for our members,” Dichter concedes. This is money that could be earned by Wheels Up, he adds.

The company currently uses around 1,000 “safety vetted and verified” business aircraft that are managed by other operators. “There’s no reason why we can’t bring all these aircraft under the Wheels Up umbrella eventually,” says Dichter.

UBERX OF THE SKIES

He expects much of the growth for the company will come from small to medium-size businesses and millennials, who want the flexibility and convenience of private aviation without the financial outlay that outright or fractional ownership entails.

“Many people don’t want to own an aircraft today,” Dichter explains. “They want to be able to book their travel at the touch button, as and when they need it.” With this in mind, Wheels Up is enhancing its online and mobile booking system to include real-time aircraft availability, pricing and payment services.

“We want to create a flight department on their phone and become an UberX of the skies.”

Wheels Up was launched in 2013 on the back of an order for 105 Textron Aviation Beechcraft King Air 350is. The first example was delivered in October that year. To date, Wheels Up as taken delivery of 72 of the twin-engined turboprops. Its branded fleet also consists of 15 Citation Excel/XLS superlight business jets and six midsize, high-speed Citation Xs.

The company is now laying the foundations for its European expansion. It has vetted several aircraft on the continent that are used to provide onward travel for its US Wheels Up members.

“We plan to bring branded aircraft to Europe within 18 months,” Dichter says. “We are just waiting to see how Brexit works out”.

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