Wheels Up takes minority stake in seaplane operator Tropic Ocean Airways

By Doug Gollan, March 30, 2022

It’s the third M&A deal of 2022 for Wheels Up, although this time, the New York-based private aviation provider is taking a minority interest

Wheel Up Experience today announced a strategic partnership and minority investment in Tropic Ocean Airways. It operates 14 Cessna Caravan seaplanes. Tropic Ocean offers both private charter and scheduled service in Florida, the Northeastern United States, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

According to a press release, the multi-year commercial agreement is the latest step by Wheels Up in its efforts to expand its product offerings and offer a seamless first-to last-mile travel solution for its members.

Earlier this month, Wheels Up expanded long-flight discounts on super-midsize jets.

The agreement provides for the integration of Tropic Ocean’s charter and certain scheduled by-the-seat services into Wheels Up’s marketplace.

Current destinations for scheduled flights from Ft. Lauderdale include Bimini, Nassau, Cat Cay, and Great Harbour Cay in the Bahamas.

Wheels Up members will be able to directly book and pay for Tropic Ocean flights through normal Wheels Up channels. 

The companies will initially focus on providing Wheels Up customers with greater accessibility to options within Tropic Ocean’s current coverage area.

Over time, the parties intend to expand to additional markets in the United States and the Caribbean.

Tropic Ocean operates a single fleet type, late model Cessna Caravan EX aircraft. Tropic Ocean operates two variants of the Caravan, amphibious and wheeled. 

Amphibious models are capable of interchangeably landing and taking off from the water or a runway.

Operated by two pilots and carrying up to nine passengers, the aircraft work well for flights under 250 miles. 

Wheels Up also announced a minority capital investment in Tropic Ocean.

Another M&A deal

It’s the eighth M&A deal of the year involving charter brokers and operators and the second of the week.

Earlier this week, Global Medical Response bought GrandView Aviation.

For Wheels Up, the investment marks its third deal. In February, it bought Citation CJ3 operator Alante Air Charter and announced an agreement to acquire U.K.-based broker Air Partner.

“Tropic Ocean is a leader in providing short-range airlift solutions in urban areas, remote locations, and markets with limited airport access or otherwise challenged with last-mile connectivity,” said Wheels Up Chairman and CEO Kenny Dichter. 

He added, “Tropic Ocean delivers a strong geographic, and product fit as the locations they currently serve are very popular with our members and with an aircraft type that extends the range and access capability of our existing fleet. They are already a Wheels Up safety vetted and verified partner that shares our commitment to customer service.”

Tropic Ocean CEO Rob Ceravolo, added, “This partnership will also help us extend the reach of our existing products, invest in our operational capabilities, and expand our offerings to more places and more service types.” 

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