Wheels Up adds Citation, Global and Gulfstream jets

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Two Wheels Up King Air 350is at a snowy Teterboro Airport.

Wheels Up furthers its private jet offerings, by giving its members access to refurbished Citation jets and Jet Aviation’s managed fleet of mid-size and large cabin aircraft.

Wheels Up is fulfilling its promise to offer aircraft representing the complete spectrum of private aviation to members of its exclusive flight club.

MUST-READ: Everything you need to know about Wheels Up

After launching in August 2013, with an order for up to 105 King Airs, the company announced that it had placed a order with Cessna for a number of Citation jets.

ALSO READ: Dichter says Wheels Up will be private aviation’s biggest brand in next five years

Wheels Up has also extended its partnership with Jet Aviation to offer charter flights on Bombardier and Gulfstream business jets.

Cessna pre-owned order

Although Wheels Up is still yet to disclose full details of where the Citations are coming from, David Baxt, president and co-founder of Wheels Up, told Corporate Jet Investor in February that new Citation models will not be included as part of the offering.

“It has matured to the point where the proper deal for us and for Cessna is to work strictly with pre-owned aircraft,” says Baxt.

Wheels Up plans to take 30 Citation jets – believed to be a mix of Excel, Sovereign and XLS aircraft – by 2015. All aircraft are pre-owned – meaning they have already depreciated – and will be painted with Wheels Up’s blue and white colour scheme, with brand new interiors and unlimited Wi-Fi access.

Although Cessna suffered a 23 per cent decline in business jet deliveries in 2013, Baxt insists he is not troubled by the company’s financials.

“I think Cessna is still a great, iconic American brand,” says Baxt. “The Excel is the best-selling jet of all time.”

Gulfstreams and Globals

Most recently, Wheels Up signed another deal with Jet Aviation – which is managing VistaJet’s fleet of US-based Global business jets, with Wheels Up acting as the exclusive sales agent – to offer a range of mid-size, super mid-size and large cabin jets based in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Jacksonville and Dallas.

The aircraft, including the Cessna Citation Excel, Hawker 800XP, Cessna Citation X, Gulfstream G200, Bombardier Challenger 605 and Gulfstream G450, are managed by Jet Aviation on behalf of private owners.

Before signing the deal, Baxt told Corporate Jet Investor that, having placed orders with Beechcraft and Cessna, he saw Gulfstream as the final piece in a trio of iconic America aviation companies.

However, Baxt said there was already a lot of competition in the large-cabin section, particularly with VistaJet’s US expansion.

Modernising the King Air

Wheels Up is making good progress with its original Beechcraft order and expects its fleet to include 27 King Air 350is by the end of 2014, with the possibility of eight aircraft based at London City Airport.

Although the company only expects the King Air to account for around 35 per cent of its total flight hours, there is still a degree of scepticism from certain sections of the industry towards the King Air.

The CEO of one company that specialises in recommending private aviation solutions to wealthy clients told Corporate Jet Investor that most of his clients did not view Wheels Up as a viable option when compared to the faster private jet travel offered by fractional providers such as NetJets and Flight Options.

When comparing the King Air 350i with some of its competitors in the light jet segment, the King Air has a top speed of 578 kmph, whereas the Phenom 300 – which is part of NetJets’ fleet and one of the King Air’s closest rivals – can fly at close to 850 kmph.

Baxt says the “dirty little trade secret” of private aviation is that the average flight time for aircraft on fractional programmes is less than two hours.

He also says that private jets lose time by climbing to higher altitudes – the Phenom 300 has a maximum ceiling of 45,000 ft, compared to the King Air’s 35,000 ft – and are not allowed to exceed 200 knots (around 370 kmph) when flying through or under the airspace of busy US airports or when approaching smaller airports.

“A King Air or a jet really is the same,” says Baxt. “It is the same experience for half the price.”

Online booking and new mobile app

With ambitions to revolutionise private aviation, an integral part of the Wheels Up business model is the further integration of new technology.

The company is currently in the process of developing a mobile app – due to be launched imminently – which will allow members to reserve aircraft, arrange private shuttles to take them to exclusive events, book ground transportation and catering – although, this may be unnecessary on flights of less than two hours – and even advertise empty seats to other members.

With much of the industry split on whether private aviation can adopt online booking with the same vigour as commercial airlines, Baxt takes a more cautious approach than his co-founder Kenny Dichter, as he says the majority of private flights are not actually booked by the passengers, but by their assistants.

“Kenny believes that around 60-70 per cent will be booked online,” he says. “I’m looking forward to be proven wrong.”

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