Wheels Up launches combined aircraft management group

By Doug Gollan, September 30, 2020

Wheels Up is leveraging its acquisitions of Delta Private Jets and Gama Aviation Signature with a dedicated sales group to grow its share of the fragmented private aircraft management sector

After closing on the acquisitions of Delta Private Jets and Gama Aviation Signature earlier this year, Wheels Up now wants to leverage those company’s sizable aircraft management businesses under the banner of its newly formed Wheels Up Aircraft Management Group.

We’re always aggressively looking to add like-minded people and companies, whether that’s an acquisition, partnership, or joint venture. I continue to be more bullish than ever.”

Kenny Dichter, Wheels Up founder and CEO

Wheels Up founder and CEO Kenny Dichter tells Private Jet Card Comparisons it’s the next logical step as he continues what’s been an 18-month transition from a membership sales organization to a fully integrated business aviation provider that in fleet size is now only second to NetJets, the largest private jet operator in the U.S. and the world.

“To become the number one private aviation company and brand in the world, a world-class aircraft management business is critical,” he says.

The goal is to grow share in what executives say is the fragmented management market. According to Amstat, there are currently 7,875 turboprops and 14,110 jets active in the U.S. Wheels Up manages or owns just over 300, and executives say the 10 largest players only control about 2,000 airplanes leaving plenty of runway. NetJets’ U.S. fleet is around 675 aircraft between its fractionally owned private jets and airplanes it manages through Executive Jet Management.

Leading Wheels Up Aircraft Management are SVP KC Ihlefeld (left), EVP Deron Brown (center), and Senior Advisor Tom Connelly. Credit: Wheels Up
Leading Wheels Up Aircraft Management are SVP, Client Services KC Ihlefeld (left), EVP, Sales Deron Brown (center), and Senior Advisor Tom Connelly. Credit: Wheels Up

The Wheels Up relationship with Gama dates back to its launch in 2013 when it contracted the company to operate its initial three Beechcraft King Air 350is. That fleet grew to 75 of the twin-engine turboprops and another 27 Cessna Citation Excel/XLS and Citation X types at the time of the acquisition.

Tapping into Wheels Up charter members

Now the goal will be to leverage the demand of Wheels Up’s over 9,000 charter program members, the buying power of its large fleet for fuel and other services, and economies of scale to attract more aircraft owners, both individuals and corporations, into the fold, says Tom Connelly, CEO of Gama Aviation Signature and senior advisor at Wheels Up.

Connelly adds, “The knowledge and expertise that we’ve brought together from Delta Private Jets, Gama Aviation Signature, and Wheels Up sets a new standard for management rooted in asset management, transparency, service, and delivery.”

Both operators hold top safety rankings from Argus, Wyvern, and IS-BAO, Platinum, Wingman, and Stage 3, respectively.

Today’s announcement follows last month’s launch of Wheels Up Aircraft Sales. That group is focused on whole aircraft deals, both for owners of its managed fleet as the move between airplanes, and hopefully a funnel of new management contracts as a byproduct of acquisitions they support.

For the new Aircraft Management group, there is a dedicated five-person sales team led by Wheels Up and Marquis Jet veteran Deron Brown. Connelly says while there are clusters of aircraft based in key locations around the country, the group can manage a single aircraft in any domestic location.

Wheels Up Aircraft Management offerings

There are four core offerings, however, “Our goal is to provide customized solutions,” says Brown.

The lineup includes:

  • Full Management – For owners who are the primary user of the aircraft (Part 91) or for owners who want the option to tap into Wheels Up’s flight demand to generate charter revenue (Part 135).
  • Select Access – For individuals and flight departments who wish to partner with Wheels Up to gain savings by leveraging the company’s purchasing power.
  • Charter Select – For owners and corporations who wish to place their aircraft on the Wheels Up certificate for the purpose of generating charter revenue to offset operating costs.
  • Maintenance Management – For owners who only require maintenance oversight and coordination or brokers who need aircraft maintained while they are on the market.

Each Wheels Up Aircraft Management client agreement can include a Wheels Up Core Membership, which sells for $17,500. It provides guaranteed access to the King Air, as available access to the Excel/XLS and Citation X, and guaranteed access to over 1,250 safety vetted and verified partner operator jets across four different cabin sizes. Core Members also get real-time aircraft availability with real-time dynamic pricing that is backed by capped hourly rates on 300 or more days per year.

Earlier this month Wheels Up launched SafePassage. The program provides enhanced safety and health protocols for employees, members, customers, and partners in response to COVID-19 related public health concerns.

The aircraft management division will operate out of Shelton, CT; Teterboro, NJ; West Palm Beach, FL; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Chicago, IL; Cincinnati, OH; San Jose, CA; and Van Nuys, CA.

Connelly said to expand the managed fleet will be through organic growth, although Dichter didn’t rule out more deals in other areas of the business. While he declined to be specific, Dichter added, “We’re always aggressively looking to add like-minded people and companies, whether that’s an acquisition, partnership or joint venture. I continue to be more bullish than ever.”


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