Dichter, Thakran exit Wheels Up board; Ex-Bombardier CEO, Million Air board member join

A member of FBO Million Air’s board joins the Wheels Up board with former private jet OEM CEO Alain Bellemare as Wheels Up Founder and former Chairman/CEO Kenny Dichter resigns.

By Doug Gollan, September 22, 2023

A member of FBO Million Air’s board joins the Wheels Up board with former Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare; Wheels Up Founder and former Chairman/CEO Kenny Dichter resigns board seat

The first days of new ownership at Wheels Up are seeing more of Delta Air Lines’ input. That includes extending the formal commercial agreement between the airline and private jet flight provider.

According to SEC filings last night and this morning, Chih Cheung, Kenny Dichter, Marc Farrell, Michael Mullen, Brian Radecki, Susan Schuman, and Ravi Thakran resigned from the Wheels Up Board of Directors.

Wheels Up’s new Board of Directors

The deal enables the investors to designate new members.

Alain Bellemare, Jeff Nedelman, and Adam Zirkin fill the Board spots designated by Delta.

Adam Cantor and Zachary Lazar join the Wheels Up for the spots designated by CK Wheels.

Andrew Davis joins to represent Cox Enterprises.

George Mattson, the incoming Chief Executive Officer, gets the seat designated for the company CEO.

Each of the appointments became effective on September 20, 2023.

Dichter founded Wheels Up and served as Chairman and CEO until stepping aside in May.

At that time, CFO Todd Smith moved into the interim CEO role.

Thakran, who came to the private jet flight provider as CEO of its SPAC merger partner, was named Chairman when Dichter resigned from his executive positions.

Both Dichter and Thakran had already been replaced by Delta executives. Thakran seat was taken by the airline’s CFO Dan Janki as Chairman and Smith (who continues as CFO) by Mattson (who starts that role next month).

READ: Exclusive Q&A with new Wheels Up CEO George Mattson

Dichter remains an advisor, according to a spokesperson.

Prior to launching Wheels Up, Dichter started Marquis Jet Partners, which was acquired by NetJets in 2010.

Private aviation experience

Bellemare provides a high-profile name with business aviation experience.

He served as Bombardier’s CEO from 2015 to 2020.

He joined Delta in January 2021 as President of International.

Before Bombardier, he spent 18 years with United Technologies Corporation, including as President and Chief Executive Officer of UTC Propulsion & Aerospace Systems from 2011 to 2015.

Bellemare also served as a senior advisor with the Carlyle Group for the aerospace, defense, and government sectors.

Prior board roles for Bellemare include Air France-KLM SA and Virgin Atlantic Ltd.

During his tenure at Bombardier, the manufacturer was a supplier to NetJets, Flexjet, and VistaJet, three key competitors to Wheels Up.

Also joining is Knighthead Capital Management Partner Adam Cantor.

According to the filing, he serves on the Board of Directors of Million Air, a privately held operator of more than 30 FBOs.

Delta, Wheels Up extend commercial pact

As part of the Delta-led rescue package for Wheels Up, the commercial agreement between the two companies is being extended.

The pact was part of Delta’s sale of Delta Private Jets to Wheels Up, which closed in January 2020.

It also includes a letter of agreement for a Corporate Customer Discount Program signed in May 2023.

From the filing, the amended agreement now runs through September 2029.

It will automatically renew for two successive three-year terms unless either party notifies the other of its
intent not to renew at least one year before the expiration of the then-current term.

As part of the initial sale, Wheels Up members can earn Delta SkyMiles and status in its loyalty program.

They can also use funds they deposit with Wheels Up to book flights on Delta.

Earlier this year, Wheels Up announced that the Delta salesforce would begin pitching the airline’s corporate accounts for private aviation needs.

Delta wants to create an integrated offering for customers who switch between airline and private flights.

The duo recently launched joint advertising on ESPN College GameDay, the SEC on CBS, and Monday Night Football.

READ: A Brief History of Airlines and Private Jets

Expanding the market

Mattson says he believes with Delta’s backing and marketing platform, there is an opportunity to bring new customers to private aviation.

In an interview last week, Mattson noted, “Ninety percent or so of the people who can afford to fly private haven’t flown private. We still have a lot of people who haven’t adopted it yet. Premium travelers aren’t commercial premium or private premium. There are a lot of people who bounce back and forth trip by trip, need by need. We want to sit at that intersection and offer our customers collectively, both sides, more choices and integrated options. And so, at the customer level, that’s where Delta sees it.”

Executives have indicated there are currently no planned program changes beyond those previously announced.

Related Articles

Visit DG Amazing Experiences

Find the perfect solution for your private aviation needs

Make the right decision

If you want a program-by-program comparison of more than 250 products from more than 50 companies covering 65 points of differentiation and over 40,000 data points.