Speaking at Revolution.Aero being held in San Francisco, Wheels Up founder and CEO Kenny Dichter told an audience of aviation executives and investors his company will be ready to participate in futuristic private aviation solutions as they develop. “If electric (aircraft) is happening, we want to distribute the technology to our members,” he said. The conference is focused on the future of aviation, including new solutions targeting trips under 300 miles, typically the drive, train and bus market.
Dichter told delegates when he launched Marquis Jet Partners in 2001 he continued the democratization of business aviation proving there was a market of private jet fliers in the 25 hours per year category. NetJets, the company he eventually sold Marquis to and that provided flights for his members focused on travelers in the 50 to 400 per hours range.
Dichter said current Wheels Up members are renewing at 84-86% and spend on average $88,500. He said the jet card membership company is on a run rate that will see it crack $400 million in annual revenues as it completes its fifth year. He wants to double membership to 10,000 in the next “three to three-and-a-half years.”
Membership with Wheels Up starts at $17,500 per year in the first year and $8,500 for renewals. Members then enjoy pay as you go guaranteed availability with fixed one-way rates on its fleet of King Air 350i and Citation Excel/XLS aircraft. Hourly rate on the King Air is $4,495 per hour plus 7.5% Federal Excise Tax.
The future, according to the CEO, will be lower priced points of entry targeting fliers who want to fly five to 15 hours. He pointed to graduates who want to return to their colleges a couple times a year to watch football games or attend alumni events. To build its brand beyond the traditional private aviation audience, Dichter noted its sponsorship of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify that put the Wheels Up logo in front of 20 million viewers. Wheels Up is also a sponsor of ESPN’s GameDay program Saturday mornings that leads into that day’s slate of college football games. He noted the agreement includes flying in a special guest with in-programming exposure of the arrival.
Wheels Up recently began adding Citation X private jets to its fleet giving it a coast to coast solution, however, it has yet to set hourly rates, instead using the Xs as upgrades for members.