Beechcraft Corp. announced Aug. 1 that it has secured an order for up to 105 King Air 350i turboprops from Wheels Up, a new membership-based private aviation program that will provide access to a fleet of the aircraft.
In addition to the aircraft order, valued at $788 million, Beechcraft has been named the aircraft and comprehensive maintenance provider for Wheels Up in North America and Western Europe, making the total value of the deal up to $1.4 billion, according to Beechcraft. The news could be a shot in the arm for the company on the heels of bankruptcy proceedings and the loss of a major U.S. Air Force contract.
Beechcraft said in a media release that the first 35 King Airs will be delivered between now and mid-2015, with the first nine to be delivered by the end of 2013. The deal includes options for 70 additional aircraft; Wheels Up, which will initially focus on the Northeastern United States, plans to expand nationally over the next two to three years.
“The Beechcraft King Air 350i is the perfect aircraft for Wheels Up due to its proven track record of tremendous flexibility and efficiency for regional travel,” said Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture. “The pairing of the 350i and support from our world-class maintenance organization with the innovative founders and management team of Wheels Up is a winning combination.”
Beechcraft King Air 350i Product Manager Patrick Buckles told AOPA Live at EAA AirVenture that the aircraft is suited to Wheels Up’s regional model. “The King Air 350i, if you look at the capability, the reliability, the efficiency of the airplane, there’s no other competitor in this class. If you try to put eight passengers with golf bags, you can’t do that in anything in this price point.”
The King Airs for Wheels Up will have several enhancements, including state-of-the-art interiors, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a luxury lavatory vanity, Beechcraft said. The maintenance program includes service for airframe, engines, avionics and propellers; scheduled and unscheduled maintenance; labor; parts; and consumables. It will also include mobile aircraft on ground (AOG) support from the Hawker Beechcraft Services Wilmington, Del., hub.
Wheels Up, created and led by Marquis Jet founder Kenny Dichter, will offer members closed fleet access to Beechcraft King Air 350i aircraft for an initiation fee and annual dues. Membership also includes Wheels Down, “a corresponding lifestyle concierge service engaging members off the tarmac, through exclusive offerings such as special programs around major sporting events (e.g. The Masters golf tournament and the Super Bowl), intimate concerts with top performers, culinary experiences with some of the world’s top chefs, meet-and-greet opportunities with entertainers, politicians, and business luminaries,” according to the media release.