Wheels Up has acquired Avianis in play to enhance customer experience

By Doug Gollan, September 24, 2019

Following its $128 million raise last month, and acquisition of Travel Management Company with 24 light jets over the summer, Wheels Up has made a tech buy

Wheels Up has acquired Avianis Systems, LLC, for an undisclosed amount. It comes just six weeks after raising $128 million in a Class D Equity Round giving the New York-based private aviation membership company a billion-dollar valuation. The deal was first reported by Corporate Jet Investor in advance of its Revolution.aero conference being held today and tomorrow in San Francisco.

Booking a private jet should be as easy as booking a car with Uber or booking a home with Airbnb

Kenny Dichter, CEO, Wheels Up

Avianis, according to its website, provides a comprehensive platform approach to managing a complete flight operation in one system. In its pitch to its B2B customers, it claims, “This enables a more holistic and cyclical view of the entire business that allows you to stay in touch with every detail of your business in one web-based platform.”

Wheels Up accelerates digital growth

Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter told Corporate Jet Investor, “We have been looking at lots of tech companies to help accelerate the development of our digital platform,” adding, “Booking a private jet should be as easy as booking a car with Uber or booking a home with Airbnb.”

Daniel Tharp, managing director of Avianis, says its technology will help streamline behind-the-scenes communications with all of the stakeholders it takes to deliver a private flight.

In a press release, Wheels Up said it is “making significant investments in technology that will develop new functionality to help private aircraft operators digitize and streamline their services, allowing them to benefit from tools that simplify and speed up task completion via post-booking automation; calculate real-time pricing, feasibility, and availability; and create new revenue streams through access to additional flight demand at scale.”

Beyond Wheels Up, Dichter says Avianis will continue to offer its flight management software as a stand-alone solution to its existing and future customers.

Avianis will improve customer experiences for Wheels Up members by streamlining backend communications and processes, say company officials.

“In private aviation, change is a fact of life,” says Eric Jacobs, the chief financial officer of Wheels Up. Avianis will streamline post-booking automation.

Currently, after members book a flight via its app, they then have call, text or email member services if they want to add catering, say they are running late, add or subtract passengers, or change any aspects of the booking.

In the future, members will be able to do it all via the app if they prefer. For Wheels Up, it will automate the post-booking process making it more convenient for its users.

Per Marthinsson, executive vice president of Avinode, a B2B resource for charter brokers, says a typical charter booking involves more than 100 emails and phone calls and up to 42 touch points on the backend.

After its acquisition of Travel Management Company in June, Wheels Up now owns 119 aircraft (a mixture of King Air 350i, Hawker 400XP, Citation Excel/XLS, and Citation X types), however, it wants to expand instant access for its 6,000 members to more third party aircraft.

Private jet charters

The Wheels Up Charter Marketplace already has a network of “safety-vetted and verified operators with more than 1,000 aircraft,” Dichter says, adding, “Avianis already has great operators, and we want to add more operators with our open platform and match them with the flight demand driven by our members.”

Wheels Up Connect jet sharing
So far this year, Wheels Up has launched a jet sharing membership, Wheels Up Connect, a fixed rate light jet program, a capped rate super-midsize offering, and, oh, by the way, raised $124 million.

 “The digital consumer experience we want to deliver requires that our supply-side becomes much more tech-enabled. This is a lesson I have learned in other industries and it certainly applies to business aviation. A winning digital marketplace platform enables consumers and operators to come together through sophisticated technology and rich data,” says Dan Crowe, chief information officer of Wheels Up, who previously served in similar positions with Weight Watchers and Autotrader.com.

Alisdair Whyte, editor of Corporate Jet Investor wrote about the deal, “The new battleground for business jet charter is not about owning planes. It is about platforms. It is not just Wheels Up, Directional Aviation acquired PrivateFly in 2018 and Vista Global bought Jetsmarter in March.”

It has been a busy year for Wheels Up.  In August, after announcing the additional financing, it launched at a guaranteed availability, capped hourly rate super-midsize program.

Earlier this year it launched Wheels Up Connect, a new membership program targeting the jet sharing market. It also added a fixed-rate light jet program.

Dichter has said in addition to expanding its share of the full aircraft charter market, he believes the company has big growth potential tapping into members who fly under 10 hours per year privately. He estimates there are around 100,000 U.S. high net worth customers and companies that use private aviation on a regular basis.

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