Wheels Up is going to be wheels down in Texas beginning November 1, opening operational bases in Dallas and Houston. The private aircraft operator has also signed up “over 30” Fortune 400 companies, CEO and Founder Kenny Dichter announced during a press conference at NBAA.
By year’s end, after just 15 months flying, Dichter said the fleet of new Beechcraft King Air 350i and refreshed Cessna Citation Excel/XLS will approach 40. Membership is currently at 750 and could grow to 1,000 to 1,200 by the start of 2015.
Dichter and his executive team forecast sunny skies saying their King Air fleet can grow into the hundreds. He noted that states such as California and Texas have huge potential just for intra-state flying. At $3,950 per hour, he said, Wheels Up is doubling the market for private aviation. He compared the company’s application of the popular turboprop to when the jeep was repurposed from military use to the go-to car for soccer moms. He added that he is looking at the 250 and C90, smaller turboprops that could serve missions of “one or two” persons and would be assumed to reduce hourly costs further.
Penetration of the corporate market is mainly supplemental lift at this point, but Dichter believes his lower price points mean that companies with annual sales of $30 million will now be able to consider private aviation solutions. Saying, “CEO’s like us, CFO’s love us,” he also announced a dedicated team selling to corporations led by industry veterans Robert Garrymore and John Colucci.
Additional expansion includes a Chicago operations base before the end of the year to enhance service to the upper Midwest. Next year the company is adding to its Wheels Down program of amenities and services for members with experiential entertainment at the Super Bowl and The Masters.
In development is a member’s app that will enable reserving flights as well as inviting other members to share flights further reducing costs.