Wheels Up, a membership-based private aviation company, joins athletes and celebrities wearing pink shirts, shoes, and socks by ascending to the sky with a specially painted pink and white Beechcraft King Air 350i for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Wheels Up will fly with its message of hope beginning Oct. 1 when the distinctive turboprop joins its fleet of 35 King Airs already crisscrossing the United States. Kenny Dichter, the company’s chief executive officer, said he hopes to raise $1 million for the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
“I believe that we’re the first private aviation company to take a stand on the breast cancer awareness stage, and since breast cancer affects one in every eight women, that means almost everybody is either touched by it or affected by it,” said Dichter.
Dichter said Wheels Up is a good fit for launching an aviation cancer awareness initiative because a diverse set of members and passengers, female executives, and families use the service for primary transportation.
The aircraft, dubbed the Pink Plane, will spearhead a fundraising initiative inviting contributions to the Dubin cancer center for every Pink Plane revenue-hour flown from Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016, up to a maximum of 600 hours of aircraft operation. He described the program’s fly-a-thon approach as something similar to walk-a-thons where participants are sponsored by friends, family, and other donations.
Dichter told AOPA that Wheels Up would donate $500 to the center for each individual, family, and corporate membership fee purchased during October; however, the company later revised their commitment to say it would "donate a portion" of those fees and said that the amount would not be less than $500.
“The Dubin Breast Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital was chosen as the program’s recipient because it’s one of the leading breast cancer institutions and it’s close to the company’s home base. The feeling inside the center is incredibly embracing and it’s a soothing place, but most importantly, it’s cutting edge. What’s great about Dubin is they serve anybody—it doesn’t matter who you are, you get the world’s best service,” said Dichter, who has visited the facility and observed its doctors and caregivers.
The idea for a pink airplane was something of a fluke, said John Colucci, the executive vice president and founding partner at Wheels Up. “We were thinking of ways to market with female buyers, and for years and years I had this idea about painting a plane pink and connecting ourselves with breast cancer awareness. I mentioned it at the end of a meeting and several people had that look on their face—you know the kind of look that says, ‘Hey, that’s a great idea.’”
Wheels Up came on the aviation scene in 2013 and focuses on lowering the price point for access to business aircraft with a membership fee for joining the program and annual payments for access to a fleet of King Air 350i turboprops. Members then pay $3,950 per flight hour plus certain financial indices, and the aircraft are staged in seven regional clusters in the United States. Dichter said the King Air fleet will grow to 40 by the end of the year, and the company’s Cessna Citation Excel/XLS jets will increase from 10 to 15.
Beechcraft welcomed the Wheels Up idea when it was born in 2013, and Textron delivered the specially outfitted Pink Plane in August, so the pink King Air 350i is already taking its message of breast cancer awareness to new heights.