Wheels Up acquires private jet operator Mountain Aviation

By Doug Gollan, January 5, 2021

Wheels Up has acquired Mountain Aviation, the 10th largest U.S. Part 135 private jet operator, adding 59 private aircraft to its fleet

The deal makes Wheels Up the world’s largest Citation X operator and sets it up to be a major player in transcontinental private jet flights

Add Mountain Aviation to the list. After acquiring Delta Private Jets, Gama Aviation Signature, and TMC Jets over the past 19 months, Wheels Up has acquired the 10th largest private jet charter operator in the country.

According to Argus Traqpak data from 2019, Gama ranked first Part 135 flight hours. Delta Private Jets ranked fourth, and Travel Management Company was ninth.

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The Mountain Aviation deal brings 59 aircraft. It cements Wheels Up’s position firmly behind market leader NetJets in terms of fleet size with over 350 U.S.-based aircraft. More significantly, it gives it the world’s largest fleet of Citation Xs. The fast super-midsize jets seat eight and are popular for transcontinental flights.

“We’ve come to know and greatly respect Mountain Aviation’s talented team over the past few years and are excited to welcome them officially to our Wheels Up family,” said Kenny Dichter, Wheels Up Founder and Chief Executive Officer.

Dichter continued, “We are aligned on culture, forward vision, and business goals.  This acquisition further strengthens the Wheels Up suite of products and services that we offer to our members and customers and enhances our unique total aviation solution positioning.”

Deals Up for Wheels Up – A busy two years

January 2021Buys Mountain Aviation, 10th largest U.S. charter operator with largest U.S. Citation X fleet
December 2020Hires Airbnb and Amazon exec Greg Greeley as chairman of its marketplace
December 2020Hires Grey Goose, Patron marketing boss Lee Applbaum as CMO
November 2020Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter tells Corporate Jet Investor conference $1 billion in revenues and profitability in sight for 2021
October 2020Delta Air Lines’ filing reveals its 24% stake in Wheels Up is valued at $234 million, nearly twice the value of its 9% holdings in Air France KLM Group
September 2020Combines Delta Private Jets and Gama Aviation Signature management units to launch Wheels Up Aircraft Management
August 2020Recruits top execs from QS Partners and Jetcraft to launch Wheels Up Aircraft Sales
August 2020Appoints former JetSuite president Stephanie Chung as Chief Business Officer targeting diverse growth markets
June 2020Wheels Up Partners Holdings LLC receives $74 million in CARES Act support after private aviation flights drop by 75%
March 2020Buys Gama Aviation Signature, the largest U.S. charter operator
February 2020Appoints former Delta Air Lines SVP Gail Grimmett as Chief Experience Officer
December 2019Buys Delta Private Jets, 4th largest U.S. charter operator with Delta Air Lines taking a 24% stake in Wheels Up
September 2019Buys tech platform Avianis to expand its charter marketplace
August 2019 Raises $128 million in Series D from Franklin Templeton, T. Rowe Price, and Fidelity Management
June 2019Buys Travel Management Company (TMC Jets), the 9th largest U.S. charter operator
February 2019Launches Connect membership to target entry-level flyers
Source: Private Jet Card Comparisons

“This is an exciting day for all of us at Mountain Aviation,” said Gregg Fahrenbruch, CEO of Mountain Aviation. 

He added, “We are proud of what we’ve built and thrilled to join Kenny and the Wheels Up team to continue to expand and grow.  It’s remarkable to see how Wheels Up, with their vision to democratize, digitize, and disrupt, is transforming the industry.”

Wheels Up acquires Mountain Aviation

Dichter tells Private Jet Card Comparisons there are no immediate changes to the current Wheels Up membership offerings. However, the expanded Citation X fleet lines it up to compete with Vista Global’s XO and Directional Aviation’s Sentient Jet and FXAIR for coast-to-coast pricing. All three last year introduced fixed rates for transcontinental flights.

In addition to the Citation Xs, Mountain Air’s website indicates its fleet includes various King Air models. There are also Citation V, Ultra and CJ3 light jets, and Citation Excel midsize aircraft, plus Sovereigns, Gulfstream GIVs, and a Falcon 900EX.

In Q4 2020, Mountain Aviation ranked third amongst all private jet floating fleet operators. It was second in the super-midsize category in terms of flights, hours, and total miles flown.

The Wheels Up group fleet already includes over 80 King Air 350is, around 40 Citation Excel/XLS types and a large floating fleet of Hawker 400XPs inherited via TMC Jets.

A key pick-up is Mountain Aviation’s full Part 145 maintenance capabilities housed across seven hangar facilities. It will accelerate the build-out of Wheels Up’s in-house maintenance capability, adding efficiencies across operations. Delta Private Jets has a maintenance facility in Ft. Lauderdale.

New private jet customer segments

Also coming in the deal are a growing government defense contract segment and medical transportation business.

Mountain Aviation’s wholesale business will continue with existing clients. Before the sale, the company didn’t offer its own jet card or membership program and instead focusing on serving brokers and off-fleet flying for other operators. Fahrenbruch will take on the new title of Senior Vice President, Operations Strategy at the group. He will continue to run the Mountain Aviation business together with the current leadership.

Wheels Up will continue to serve Mountain Aviation’s existing managed customers as part of the Wheels Up Aircraft Management platform.

Mountain Aviation’s legacy technology will migrate onto Wheels Up’s cloud-based Avianis technology platform. The move will provide more automation and streamlined services for Wheels Up members.

Mountain’s 300 employees will continue to operate out of Broomfield and its other locations in Colorado, Teterboro, New Jersey, Anchorage, Alaska, and Thermal, California.

Last week, Wheels Up made news with the hire of former Amazon and Airbnb executive Greg Greeley. He serves as chairman of its private jet charter marketplace. It recently gained widespread media coverage for selling its private aviation memberships via Costco.

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