By Nancy Dahlberg
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With Serena Williams among its ambassadors, “Wheels Up” has a 80-plane fleet, including 65 King Airs, and plans to have more than 100 planes by the end of 2018.
Access to the elite world of private jets has been widening with a number of fractional ownership and jet-sharing companies finding their wings in the marketplace.
Unlike some of its competitors, Wheels Up is a tech-enabled company that owns its fleet. Members gain access to the fleet to use when and where they want.
Before founding Wheels Up four years ago, the leadership team ran Marquis Jets, which was later sold to Columbus, Ohio-based NetJets.
The key to Wheels Up’s early success has been the purchase of it its fleet of “flying SUVs,” the King Air 350i, the company’s executives say.
By owning the fleet, Wheels Up was able to lower the cost of flying in an eight-seater airplane by 50 percent, further opening up the ultra-rich world of private aviation to the merely wealthy, and increasingly, to corporations.
Wheels Up specializes in two-hour-or-less flights; South Florida members typically use it for intra-state service, flights to the Bahamas and Caribbean, including Cuba, and to cities throughout the eastern seaboard.
In the past four years, Wheels Up has added more than 4,000 members, and it is generating about $300 million in annual revenue, company founder and CEO Kenny Dichter said.
Initial memberships cost $17,500 for an individual, $29,500 for a corporation, and less than that yearly to continue membership.
Wheels Up, which is based in New York City, is opening its first physical Florida office, in Coral Gables, to be led by Wheels Up partner Justin Firestone.
The company has raised about $200 million in funding, valuing the company at more than $1 billion, the company said.