Wheels Up is looking to move closer to NetJets and pull away from Directional Aviation and Vista Global Holdings. Its acquisition of Gama Aviation LLC this morning gives it over 300 owned and managed aircraft.
Gama Aviation Signature, as it is known, already was managing the Wheels Up fleet of King Air 350i, Citation Excel/XLS, and Citation X aircraft.
It also marks a dramatic transition for Wheels Up, which at this time a year ago was mainly a King Air program.
Wheels Up is now a major player in private jet management and third-party charter, two new business lines from its 2013 launch. It also secures more on-fleet supply for its members across the full spectrum of aircraft sizes.
Gama Aviation Signature lists 20 large-cabin jets, including long-range Global Express, Gulfstream G650, and G550 as being available for charter. Delta Private Jets lists eight large cabin and long-range aircraft on its website.
The deal also brings eight more super-midsize jets. Wheels Up previously had six owned Citation Xs, while Delta Private Jets has 11. That means a total of 25 aircraft in the super-midsize category.
“This transaction supports our long-term vision for the future of Wheels Up, and as we continue to build the fleet and offer aircraft management services, we are uniquely positioned in the market with a full ecosystem for all private aviation needs,” said Kenny Dichter, Founder and CEO of Wheels Up.
He tells Private Jet Card Comparisons, “All of our members and prospective members will benefit from the scale. We’re going to make this the most user-friendly private aviation company in the world.”
Dichter declined to discuss plans for an IPO. He said after the deal Delta Air Lines remains its largest shareholder along with T. Rowe Price, Fidelity Investments, and Franklin Templeton.
Gama Aviation Signature will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wheels Up. It will continue to provide the same service to existing aircraft management and charter customers, he said.
It remains to be seen what will happen to the branding. Gama Plc continues to operate separate aircraft management and private jet rental business in the U.K. At the same time, Signature continues with its separate network of FBOs and other aviation-related businesses.
Wheels Up is expected to announce how it will align its current membership programs with DPJ in the coming weeks.
It has already revealed a series of crossover benefits. It’s still possible to buy into either the existing DPJ jet card program and Sky Access empty leg program.
At the same time, Wheels Up is selling its relaunched membership program. Debuted in December, it features guaranteed availability and capped hourly rates for the King Airs, light, midsize, super-midsize, and large-cabin aircraft. It also continues with its entry-level jet sharing options.
The deal draws it closer to market leader NetJets. It also adds some distance between Wheels Up and both Directional Aviation and Vista Global Holdings in fleet size.
Directional includes jet card broker Sentient Jet and charter broker PrivateFly along with the fractional fleet of Flexjet. It has slightly under 200 aircraft. Vista Global Holdings includes both XO and VistaJet. It operates an owned fleet of around 115 super-midsize, large cabin, and ultra-long-haul private jets.
Gama Aviation LLC has been the largest Part 135 operator in the U.S. since 2016. A large chunk of that flying was already on behalf of Wheels Up. Gama, like Delta Private Jets, and Travel Management Company, brings IS-BAO Stage 3, Wyvern Wingman, and Argus Platinum safety ratings.
In addition to its Shelton, Connecticut headquarters, Gama has a variety of offices at airports serving UHNW private travelers. Locations include L.G. Hanscom Field serving Boston, Dallas Love Field, Westchester County Airport, Las Vegas, Palm Beach, San Jose, Teterboro, San Jose, and Van Nuys. Those locations could also provide support for additional services to Wheels Up members.