Wheels Up lays off around 11% of pilots

Delta Air Lines-backed private jet flight provider Wheels Up says lower attrition and fleet reduction strategy led to the move.

By Doug Gollan, June 25, 2024

Wheels Up has laid off around 11% of its pilots, sources tell Private Jet Card Comparisons.

A spokesperson confirmed the move but declined to provide specific numbers.

The company is attributing the reductions to lower attrition rates.

Pilots were told the smaller number of leavers was due to a slowdown in hiring by the Part 121 airlines and more cockpit crew choosing to stay at the company.

In a statement provided to Private Jet Card Comparisons, a spokesperson said:

‘As a matter of policy, Wheels Up does not comment on personnel matters out of respect for the privacy of those involved. However, given the release of internal communications, we do feel it is our responsibility to publicly acknowledge the macro industry factors that were the largest contributor to our decision. The sharp decline in our pilot attrition rates in the first half of this year, due in part to a reduction of pilot hiring at the commercial airlines and pilots choosing to stay at Wheels Up, created the staffing imbalance that led to today’s actions. Aligning our pilot organization with the size of our fleet is critical to the success and health of our business, and the abnormalities in the industry over these last few months made appropriate staffing forecasting against regular attrition challenging. As we navigate through this difficult period of change, we want to once again acknowledge the pivotal roles that all of our team members play in ensuring our operation reflects the high standards we have set for ourselves, our members, and our customers. It is their focus, dedication, and passion that will continue to advance our path to operational excellence.’

– Wheels Up spokesperson

Wheels Up continued to report losses in Q1 of 2024.

Executives said they still expected to reach EBITDA profitability by the end of the year.

Wheels Up transition

Last year, Delta Air Lines led a $500 million rescue package and installed a new management team.

Wheels Up had previously cut its primary service area, which guarantees capped hourly rates to reduce loss-making flights.

It has also been scaling back its fleet.

Last September, it sold its aircraft management arm to Airshare.

According to the company, its fleet has just over 170 aircraft, including 59 King Air 350 turboprops, 43 Citation Xs, and 35 Hawker 400XPs.

Last week, it announced several program changes, including reducing daily minimums for light and midsize jets and cutting peak days at its now entry-level $100,000 fund program.

It also eliminated its pay-as-you-go option and its entry-level dynamic pricing Connect membership.

Delta confidence

During The Masters, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian reiterated his outlook for the private jet flight provider.

Bastian said at the event for members, “(Delta’s) strategy for the last 15 years has been to continue to rise above. Then you start building premium services, DeltaOne, the lounges. The thought (Wheels Up founder) Kenny (Dichter) and I had is that the next step of premium is private. No airline has ever had a private experience at scale, and this is what we’re building at Wheels Up.”

The layoffs were effective immediately.

In addition to lower attrition, the company cited its reduced fleet and efficiencies as it consolidates the number of its operating certificates.

After acquiring a half-dozen charter operators during an acquisition binge that started in 2019, Wheels Up struggled to integrate the different operations.

At the end of 2023, Wheels Up ranked as the nation’s fourth-largest charter/fractional operator.

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