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Wheels Up rapidly expandingWheels Up rapidly expanding

Wheels Up is rapidly expanding among individual and corporate customers who are new to business aviation and is on track for an initial public stock offering in the next 18 months.

Wheels Up King Air 350i

Kenny Dichter, founder and CEO of the air charter firm that's based on regional flights in King Air turboprops, said 65 percent of its flights are booked by individuals and 35 percent are booked by corporations. Wheels Up operates 65 King Airs and 15 Cessna Citations.

"We'd like to get the split to about 50/50," he said. "We're seeing a lot of growth in the bottom of the pyramid. There's a lot of people that can afford this we're not touching."

Dichter said the King Air is the right airframe for most customers who typically fly leg lengths of two hours or less. Operating costs are far lower than pure jets, and they are "optically proper" among shareholders who reject extravagant spending.

Dichter said there's tremendous potential growth in aviation among people and corporations that don't currently use it.

Wheels Up has about 4,000 members now. The company anticipates 10,000 by 2020 and 25,000 to 30,000 members within 10 years.

The company signed a contract to buy 105 new King Airs, but it's exploring the possibility of buying used jets, too.

"If we've got the ability to put in pre-owned airplanes, why shouldn't we?" Dichter said. "This is the future of where private aviation is going."

Wheels Up has a 90-percent-plus retention rate among regular fliers who book more than 25 flight hours per year. It's also looking at attracting more casual fliers who use it as a sort of travel insurance.

"We've got to figure out how to offer the tennis membership at the golf club," he said. "There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who can do this. Casual flier is incredibly important to our business.

"We're just getting started," he said. "What you're seeing is the future of business aviation."

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
Topics: Turboprop, National Business Aviation Association

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