Wheels Up in discussions with Air France/KLM, Virgin Atlantic to offer private jet solutions

Delta Air Lines partners Air France/KLM and Virgin Atlantic are talking to Wheels Up about private aviation partnerships.

By Doug Gollan, November 7, 2023

Wheels Up, with Delta Air Lines upping its stake to 40% of the private jet flight provider, is seeking to expand its offerings to the customers of airline partners of its airline owner.

Speaking at the Corporate Jet Investor conference in Miami, Wheels Up CEO George Mattson said the private flight provider is pursuing opportunities with airlines that have antitrust joint ventures with Delta.

Mattson told attendees, “We’re already having discussions about how Wheels Up at large, with Air Partner, can work closely with Virgin Atlantic, or Air France or KLM…and replicate what we are doing here (with Delta) for their high value corporate and individual customers in their geographies, that’s going to be part of our strategy as well.”

Air France previously partnered with VLJ operator Wijet before it ceased operations in 2020.

The Virgin Group had a brief entry into the private jet charter market with a brokerage in the early 2000s.

Korean Air, a Delta partner, owns and operates several private jets and has a dedicated business jet division.

Of its initiatives with Delta to target its roster of more than 40,000 SME corporate accounts, Mattson said, “I think what we are going to do is expand the size of the industry.”

In terms of progress, he said, “We only need a few of those, a relatively small percentage, to become interested. The indications of our meetings already are there will be many more.”

Asked if he thought other U.S. airlines would also look to add private aviation solutions, Mattson said, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

American Airlines was a partner in the launch of Flexjet in the 1990s.

United Airlines attempted to enter the space under a subsidiary, Avolar, which folded in 2002 after pressure from its unions.

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Wheels Up Profitability

Asked about its goal to reach profitability on an Adjusted EBITDA basis, Mattson said, “We want to reach real profit, not just adjusted profit.”

He also quipped, “I invite my private aviation brothers and sisters to open up your books too because we all know it’s a challenging industry.”

In terms of its staying power, Mattson said, “I can assure you the likes of Delta Air Lines, Certares, Knighthead, and Cox don’t invest in companies without seeing a business plan that they were comfortable putting a half billion dollars behind and underwriting to sustainability, profitability, and success.”

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Of its June 26 PSA changes, Mattson said it has had a “very positive effect on our financial profile for that part of the business.”

Wheels Up will report its Q3 earnings on Thursday, Nov. 9.

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