After acquiring three of the nine largest Part 135 operators and tech platform Avianis, Wheels Up has seen flight activity rebound to pre-COVID-19 levels and is readying for the next chapter to take it beyond aviation, CEO and founder Kenny Dichter told attendees at Corporate Jet Investor Americas 2020 today.
“When I think about the flexibility of the Apple and Amazon brands, I would say Wheels Up has that same flexibility. We want to move this private aviation market from analog to digital, and then we want to figure out what is the best next couple of adjacencies we can sell to our customer base. If you have member trust in your brand, you can really do anything,” Dichter told the delegates.
Referring to Amazon, Dichter said, “Our books are our King Air 350is. We started as a King Air membership company. Today, we’re the everything store of business aviation.”
Since August, Wheels Up has launched Wheels Up Aircraft Sales and Wheels Up Aircraft Management. The latter is a combination of the aircraft management arms acquired through Delta Private Jets and Gama Aviation Signature.
Looking at the future, Dichter said, “I think about the yacht market. I think about the villa market. I think about the luxury goods market. Could we do a partnership with Louis Vuitton or Rolex in the future? Why not.”
Dichter said Wheels Up will finish the year with better than 10,000 members, adding 4,000 members this year. Of the new joiners, he said, “They didn’t join in 2020 for The Masters or Super Bowl parties we throw alongside those great events. They joined to fly.”
He also expects more cooperation with Delta Air Lines, which currently holds a 24% stake in the company. Wheels Up members can already use their Fund accounts to buy tickets on the airline. They also receive status in its SkyMiles frequent flyer programs.
As airliners seek to rebuild their networks decimated by the pandemic, Dichter noted, “We’re going to work closely with Delta if there’s a city pair not being served. We’ll look at shuttles, seats, shared flights.”
Forecasting next year, he predicted the group has “a very good shot in 2021 to hit a billion dollars top line and be EBITDA profitable,” adding for “2022, that’s in the bag.”
Dichter said he is still eyeing more acquisitions in the private aviation space as well. Wheels Up is also expected to make an initial public offering at some point.
Asked if he would have done anything differently since launching in 2012, Dichter said, “If there were a mistake, I probably would have moved faster, earlier.”