Wheels Up names Hegde president

By Doug Gollan, October 5, 2021

Former Amazon, Airbnb exec Vinayak Hegde has been elevated to president at now publicly traded private aviation provider Wheels Up

Vinayak Hegde has been named president of Wheels Up. He will continue to report directly to chairman and CEO Kenny Dichter who founded the company. Now Wheels Up Experience, which trades under UP, went public via a SPAC merger in July.

Hegde joined Wheels Up as chief marketplace officer in May, the most recent of numerous high-profile c-suite talent.

The New York-based company has been adding executives with experience at large technology and hospitality companies.

UP is really a tech platform for private aviation. With Vinayak’s leadership, the company has messaged that it is accelerating its technology initiatives…

Gary Prestopino, analyst, Barrington Research

In his previous role, Hegde was responsible for leveraging technology to expand the customer base beyond the traditional membership model.

The future of Wheels Up

Wheels Up has been pinning future growth on expanding private aviation usage of single-digit millionaires. It also plans to use that demand and technology to encourage more aircraft owners to make their private jets available for charter.

“Since joining our team in May, Vinayak has successfully leveraged his proven, successful track record with product, engineering, sales, marketing, data, and operations to deliver substantial value to the enterprise,” said Dichter.

He added, “Over the last five months, Vinayak has immersed himself in our business, and has rapidly implemented several system enhancements, driving disciplined reporting rooted in transparency and accountability, and hired key leaders which enables us to take Wheels Up to the next level, at an accelerated pace.”

Hegde’s resume includes stints at Amazon and Airbnb. At the tech companies, he focused on combining data, product, engineering, marketing, and revenue management to scale their online offerings.

According to a press release, Hegde will focus on “developing and implementing a seamless and holistic approach to the customer, from sales to the management of our members’ and customers’ experience and loyalty.”

He will be responsible for enterprise-wide KPIs across sales, revenue, product, and operations that measure performance and drive accountability. Additionally, he will also lead key strategic initiatives across the enterprise.

Democratizing private jet travel

Since Dichter founded Wheels Up in 2013, he has been pushing to expand the customer base of private aviation. That included a first-of-its-kind sales partnership with Costco. In 2019, the company launched its Connect membership, which starts at $2,950. Earlier this year, it began allowing non-members to book on-demand charter flights through its app.

“I am incredibly fortunate to be a part of Wheels Up and humbled for the opportunity to work with this extraordinary team who are delivering exceptional service to our Members and customers in the air and on the ground each and every day. I look forward continuing to make Wheels Up a great place to work and the preferred private aviation and lifestyle company for our Members and operating partners,” said Hegde.

Surging demand or private jets

Hegde’s appointment comes at a challenging time for the jet card and membership sellers.

As demand continues at record levels, several other key jet card providers have halted sales to new customers.

Stress on the system, much beyond the control of providers, has meant surging complaints as delays ripple through the system.

Barrington Research analyst Gary Prestopino tells Private Jet Card Comparisons, “I view this as a positive move by UP based on Vinayak’s technology background in leadership positions throughout his career in technology, marketing, and product development with Amazon and Airbnb as an innovator in scaling consumer internet offerings.”

He adds, “UP is really a tech platform for private aviation. With Vinayak’s leadership, the company has messaged that it is accelerating its technology initiatives, including the Avianis flight management system and the eventual development of a  global aircraft search engine that will provide a real-time view of inventory for the company’s fleet as well as for fleet partners.”

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