Wheels Up buys Travel Management Company


Kenny Dichter speaking at Revolution.Aero US 2018.

Wheels Up, the business aviation membership company, has acquired Travel Management Company. TMC has a fleet of 26 Hawker owned 400XP aircraft. Wheels Up owns 93 aircraft which are operated by Gama Aviation.

“Wheels Up is officially in deal mode,” said Kenny Dichter, Founder and CEO of Wheels Up to Corporate Jet Investor. “Light jets clearly go together with King Airs for entry level users and we now have 119 aircraft. We also get more than 90 great pilots and 125 employees who will stay with the business and keep all of its relationships with channel partners going.”

Argus International ranked TMC as the 10th most active Part 135 operator in the US, flying 19,033 hours. This was down from 30,385 hours in 2017, when it operated 54 aircraft.

Private equity company TPG Growth bought TMC from its founder Pete Liegl in 2017. TPG also owned a significant stake in XOJET at the time. It sold XOJET to Vista Global in September 2018. TMC owned 68 aircraft when it was sold in 2017 – 36 Hawker 400XPs, 29 Hawker 800XPs, two Challenger 604s and one King Air 200. The company was launched in 2006.

“The team at TMC is world-class, and we’re proud of the reputation we’ve earned for being one of the safest and most reliable operators in private aviation,” said Phil Dodyk, CEO of TMC. “By joining Kenny and the Wheels Up team, we’re excited to become part of such a renowned brand and a larger company that is deep with talented leadership, which shares our collective vision of building an industry leader.”

TMC will operate as an independent subsidiary of Wheels Up. It will stay in Elkhart, Indiana with Dodyk staying as CEO. Gama Aviation will continue to operate the Wheels Up fleet. Argus International data shows that Gama Aviation was the most active Part 135 operator in 2018 flying 91,195 hours.

Quick take: More acquisitions on the way

This is just the first acquisition you can expect to see from Wheels Up. As Kenny Dichter says: “Wheels Up is officially in deal mode”

It is also another stage in the battle for occasional business aircraft users in the US. It follows on from Vista Global’s planned acquisition of JetSmarter and XOJET (also from TPG) and the continued expansion of Directional Aviation (which owns Sentient, Flexjet, Flight Options and others) and acquired online broker Private Fly in 2018.

The three founders – Kenny Dichter, Kenn Ricci (Directional) and Thomas Flohr (Vista Global) – all have very different backgrounds, philosophies and personalities and their next step each takes will be fascinating. Both Ricci and Flohr will have looked at buying TMC.

TPG is arguably one of the greatest aviation investors – it restructured Continental Airlines in the 1990s, bought aircraft lessor GPA (now Aercap) after it failed, and was an early investor in Ryanair, Europe’s most successful airline. However, its investments in business aviation, particularly XOJET and to a lesser extent TMC, have not been as successful.

Core topics