Beechcraft spools up for first Wheels Up deliveries

Strong growth after bankruptcy

October 22, 2013

The first 35 Beechcraft King Airs will be delivered to Wheels Up by mid-2015.

Beechcraft President and CEO Bill Boisture acknowledged the company’s troubled  year through bankruptcy proceedings and its successful emergence by telling an audience of reporters at the National Business Aviation Association, “We’re just happy to be here!”

In fact, the company has rebounded strongly after its reorganization earlier this year, an effort capped by a recent order for up to 105 King Air 350i models, the largest airplane it builds and the largest order in its history. Beechcraft has delivered 163 airplanes through the third quarter and one more at the show, the first 350i to Wheels Up, a new company hoping to lower the price point for access to business aircraft. “Our finances are strong, our orders are strong, and our deliveries are strong,” declared Boisture, noting that order intake is up three times over last year.

Kenny Dichter said Wheels Up is a membership-based private aviation company that eliminates fixed costs and provides lower costs to those needing transportation. Already more than 30 people have signed up for memberships, according to Dichter, who is founder and CEO of Wheels Up. Members will pay $15,750 to join and then about $7,250 annually in subsequent years. They will then have access to a 350i for $3,950 an hour, plus certain financial indices. He expects most people will use 20 to 30 hours a year. He estimates he will have 300 members by the end of 2013 and 1,500 by the end of 2014. He will take delivery of nine 350i models by the end of the year.

President and CEO Bill Boisture of Beechcraft addresses reporters at an NBAA press conference in front of the first King Air 350i to be delivered to Wheels Up, a new company providing low-cost access to business aircraft.

The airplanes will be staged in seven regional clusters in the United States. The airplanes will be staffed and operated by Gama Charters. He expects some airplanes to quickly be staged in Canada and within three years in Western Europe as well.

Meanwhile, Boisture said Beechcraft plans to sell by the end of the year the Hawker 4000 and Premier product lines, including tooling, type certificates, and other intellectual property—a plan first laid out as part of the reorganization. He could not say who the buyer might be.

Beechcraft will continue to support the Hawker -125 models and the Beechjet 400—and is willing to provide field support for the 4000 and Premier as well if the new owner chooses to authorize that.

Boisture would not comment on reports that Beechcraft is for sale and being pursued by others, including Textron, owner of Cessna and Lycoming.

As for future products, Shawn Vick, Beechcraft executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the company continues to evaluate the single-engine turboprop market and plans develop an airplane when the market is right. Diesel and other alternative engines are being considered for today’s Continental-powered piston models requiring leaded avgas.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.