The following interview with Mary Ta was first published in The Agency Report – Second Quarter 2014
Wheels Up is an exclusive private airline company and service that is swiftly redefining how we fly. Members can hire private planes or share flights to go wherever they desire in luxurious style, choosing from light King Air 350i jets, amenity-rich mid-size jets, and large cabin, long-range jets. Kenny Dichter is the Founder and CEO of Wheels Up. He is also the Founder of Marquis Jet and the innovator of the first 25-hour fractional jet card, which gives cardholders guaranteed access to the NetJets fleet in 25-hour increments.
Mauricio Umansky: Great to see you again, Kenny. Thank you for taking a few minutes to talk to us about Wheels Up. It has been a while since we attended the Wheels Up Super Bowl event. How are you doing? How’s the company?
Kenny: Likewise Mauricio. Since our Super Saturday Super Bowl event in February, where we hosted over 1,000 guests including top athletes like New York Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, New York Giants’ David Diehl and more, Wheels Up has grown to over 400 members. We’ve also had 15 Beechcraft King Air 350i delivered, and have announced partnerships with Cessna and Jet Aviation. We’ve recently participated in a number of top sporting and arts and culture events, including The Masters, Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational, Nantucket Wine Festival and various charity events. Additionally, we have closed over $70 million worth of equity from more than 300 individuals. As you can see, it has been a busy few months.
Mauricio: For sure. Kenny, you are known as the Uber of private travel. How did you make it so inexpensive to fly?
Kenny: We are Uber 2.0, Uber with wings. At Wheels Up, we are the only company to offer an innovative membership model that encompasses easy-to-use technology and world-class event experiences, while offering an accessible and reasonable fee structure. Through our “Country-Club” style membership, Wheels Up has taken the asset risk out of private aviation, providing a lower entry point and guaranteed pricing. Our members only pay for the occupied hours they fly, no surcharges or extras. We have been able to offer this model with reduced costs by introducing the Beechcraft King Air 350i aircraft in a closed fleet format, which is a first for the industry.
Mauricio: My first trip after joining Wheels Up as a member was to Las Vegas for the One Night For One Drop event. What is the split between business and leisure flying?
Kenny: We have seen demand from many different parts of the market; individuals who use Wheels Up for business reasons during the week, and then family or personal activities on the weekend. Corporations are also gravitating towards the King Air 350i because it allows for an efficient private aviation solution, particularly when traveling to hard-to-reach cities or needing to fly multiple times in a day. And we always see great activity around events – be it The Masters, weekend college games, etc. – and these are for both personal and business reasons!
Mauricio: The time we saved by flying Wheels Up seemed significant. On an average trip, what time savings are you seeing?
Kenny: Each trip is different as to how long the flight takes – but all are the same in terms of the benefits it brings to our members. Flying direct to your destination, often at an airport not reachable by larger jets or commercial service; minimized security checks; “no hassle” airport service; the ability to conduct business on board; these factors make for an incredible time-saving experience. Several of our customers have called the King Air
a “time machine” because of the time it saves.
Mauricio: The market for real estate is strong right now, with a very positive outlook in many sectors. What are your projections for Wheels Up and private aviation in general?
Kenny: We project membership will be more than 1,200 by the end of 2014, with each member flying on average 20 to 30 hours. As far as the private aviation industry, when we see growth in wealth creation as we have over the last three years, it’s a good sign for Wheels Up. And as commercial travel becomes more challenging, private aviation provides a superior alternative for both business and leisure travelers.
Mauricio: North America is the largest market for private aviation in the world. Do you see Wheels Up expanding to other countries outside the United States?
Kenny: The short answer is – yes. As we build a successful foundation here in the U.S. and Canada, we do have plans to go into Western Europe by 2015 or 2016. We are offering the King Air 350i on an exclusive fleet basis, and we see it being just as popular in other parts of the world.
Mauricio: If you had to pick just one thing, what are you most excited about Wheels Up going forward? Tough question, I know.
Kenny: I am excited to make the private aviation pyramid broader at its base. Wheels Up will make flying privately accessible to hundreds of thousands of people and companies.
Mauricio: Pleasure talking to you today. I’m looking forward to my next Wheels Up flight!