Wheels Up adds whole aircraft sales unit

Wheels Up Aircraft Sales enables the private aviation provider to offer one-stop shopping.

By Doug Gollan, August 12, 2020

Jet sharing, empty legs, on-demand charter, fixed-rate jet cards, aircraft management, MRO services, and now full aircraft sales brokering are under the Wheels Up brand


With a powerful digital presence and brand recognition only matched by market leader NetJets, Wheels Up is once again showing it intends to be a driving force in private aviation.

This morning’s announcement of Wheels Up Aircraft Sales puts the company into aircraft brokerage, acquisition, trade, and advisory services.

Wheels Up group now offers private aviation users solutions from shared flights and empty legs to on-demand charter, fixed-rated jet cards, aircraft management, MRO services, and, as of today, full aircraft sales and services.

Wheels Up Whole Aircraft Sales
Aircraft sales veterans John Odegard (top left), Chris Brenner (top right), and Seth Zlotkin are helming Wheels Up Aircraft Sales, the newest unit of the Wheels Up group.

Kenny Dichter, the Wheels Up founder and CEO, has long spoken about how Nike, Apple, and Amazon each used a strong brand to extend their reach into new categories as a roadmap for growth.

“From your first private flight to buying a brand new Gulfstream G700, we are there,” Dichter told Private Jet Card Comparisons.

Wheels Up Aircraft Sales

To launch Wheels Up Aircraft Sales, the company tapped three industry veterans: Chris Brenner, John Odegard, and Seth Zlotkin. Together, the trio brings over 50 years of market experience and has brokered more than $1 billion in transactions.

Brenner was most recently senior vice president of sales for the Americas at Jetcraft Corporation. Odegard and Zlotkin co-founded QS Partners, NetJets’ aircraft sales and acquisitions company.

“Adding whole aircraft sales and advisory services has been part of our long-term vision for Wheels Up as a total aviation solutions company and a global leader in the industry.  The timing is perfect in that we see a meaningful shift in the addressable market and overall interest in private flying,” Dichter said.

He noted, “The Wheels Up Aircraft Sales team has an unmatched combination of knowledge and experience.  Chris, John, and Seth are tops in their field and share our passion for doing business with a relentless focus on personal service. With this new platform, we will have the capability to support the entire lifecycle of a private flyer.”

Wheels Up compared to NetJets
After founding Wheels Up in 2013, CEO Kenny Dichter quickly built its brand awareness to challenge market leader NetJets. Source: Google Trends

From its founding in 2013 until 2019, Wheels Up mainly focused on branding its fixed-rate, pay-as-you-go membership program. Dichter quickly had his second dip into private aviation, punching above the weight of its mainly King Air 350i fleet.

He recruited high-profile athletes like Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Russell Wilson as ambassadors. Sponsoring two Triple Crown winners and ESPN’s College GameDay expanded awareness. Recently, Dichter joined Wilson, Jennifer Lopez, and others to raise donations for 15 million meals in COVID-19 relief.

In 2001, Dichter launched Marquis Jet Partners. The jet card pioneer was bought by NetJets in 2010.

Challenging NetJets for brand awareness

Despite building awareness for Wheels Up to match Berkshire Hathaway-owned NetJets (graph above), the company didn’t actually fly its own aircraft. It outsourced flights to Gama Aviation Signature, a highly-rated management company.

That changed last year. It plucked Travel Management Company, the ninth-largest Part 135 operator in the U.S. The move gave it 24 light jets and its first AOC, or air operator’s certificate in aviation lingo.

In September, it bought Avianis, a B2B technology platform. Then in December, it struck a deal to buy Delta Private Jets. The fourth-largest Part 135 operator brought a managed fleet of over 70 private jets.

It also left Delta Air Lines as its largest shareholder, a stake thought to be around 25%. It’s conceivable someday, millions of the airline’s fliers will be able to book charters and shared flights via their Delta smartphone app. Wheels Up members already get discounts, bonus miles, and elevated status in Delta’s SkyMiles loyalty program.

In March, Wheels Up brought its branded fleet in-house. The acquisition of Gama Aviation Signature gave it the largest U.S. charter operator, according to Argus Traqpak data.

The string of deals made Wheels Up the second-largest Part 135/91K operator. It now trails only NetJets and its management arm, Executive Jet Management, measured by flight hours.

Biggest U.S. Private Jet Operators

One year after acquiring its first Part 135 operator, Wheels Up group trails only NetJets in terms of shared and charter flight hours.

At the same time, Wheels Up was expanding downwards, following Dichter’s call to democratize private aviation. Its Connect membership, launched last year, starts $2,995 targeting jet sharing, empty legs, and on-demand charter.

Zlotkin said, “We are thrilled to be joining Wheels Up with the common goal of building the world’s best aircraft sales company while bolstering the brand’s full suite of private aviation services.”

In addition to their existing Rolodex, the trio has a built-in source of leads. Owners whose aircraft are managed by Delta Private Jets and Gama only need to make one call when they want to sell their airplane, trade it in, or buy a new one.

For new clients, Wheels Up Aircraft Sales will be able to provide two in-house options to manage aircraft. Both DPJ and Gama are Argus Platinum, Wyvern Wingman, and IS-BAO Stage 3 operators.

There’s also the promise of sizeable demand for owners wanting to book charter hours to offset ownership expenses. Dichter says Wheels Up currently has 9,000 members across its various platforms.

And then, there’s MRO services, a byproduct of the DPJ acquisition. Locations in Cincinnati and Ft. Lauderdale offer owners inspections, mechanical and structural repair services, avionics repair and installation, engine change, aircraft conformity, and advanced troubleshooting.

Tapping a $151 billion market

A 2019 report by Jetcraft predicted 11,765 pre-owned aircraft transactions valued at $61 billion through 2023. It also projected the delivery of 3,444 new units worth $90.5 billion during that span.

As private jet flying rebounded, aircraft transactions apparently have, too. In June, the International Aircraft Dealers Association reported sales of preowned aircraft were “improving dramatically.”

A dedicated section for Wheels Up Aircraft Sales on the company website is expected to be live soon. In the meantime, the group can be contacted at aircraftsales@wheelsup.com


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