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“We want to disrupt and democratize,” said Kenny Dichter, founder and CEO of private-membership, on-demand charter firm Wheels Up. So far, the strategy is working, with Dichter saying that he sees a total of one to two million companies and individuals as the potential membership market.

Wheels Up King Air 350i

Currently, Wheels Up has 3,750-plus members and uses a fleet of 140 aircraft to serve three different membership tiers. Corporate members, who make up about 10 percent of members, account for 20 percent of the flying. They are charged a $29,500 initial membership fee, and $14,500 annually. Their per-hour rate for flying in a Wheels Up King Air 350i is $3,950. Individual membership requires a $17,500 up-front fee, $8,500 annually, and the same, $3,950 hourly rate as corporate members.

A recently established category—“8760” membership—is aimed at what Dichter calls “starter members.” Its initiation fee is $5,950, its annual fee is also $5,950, and the hourly flying rate is $4,950. The name “8760” is a reference to the number of hours in a year.

Dichter started Wheels Up in 2013. Its fleet consists of 105 King Air 350i turboprop twins, with another 100 to 150 such airplanes on order. Citation XLSs make up another 15 airplanes, and large-cabin business jets can be made available through the company’s Wheels Up Flight Desk services. “I see us having 225 to 250 airplanes by 2020,” Dichter said.

Wheels Up is pursuing expansion into the European market. Dichter said that the King Air 350i fleet can serve 90 to 95 percent of Europe’s 54 most popular city pairs.

Another recent initiative, dubbed “hot seats,” makes repositioning and dead-head flights available to members for a mere $295. A Wheels Up official said that some 9,000 hot seats are available annually, and posted on the Wheels Up app. In the future, Dichter believes that “your flight department will be on your smartphone.”

“Same day, game day” shuttle flights are another new Wheels Up program. This takes advantage of typically quiet Saturdays to open up the King Airs for flights to college football games.

Dichter said that 30 to 40 percent of Wheels Up’s customers have never before had a relationship with private aviation. At the rate the company is going, its goal of 10,000 members in the next 10 years could be in easy reach.

Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
Topics: National Business Aviation Association, Aviation Industry

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