Wheels Up continues its acquisition spree this morning with its purchase of Mountain Aviation, the 10th largest private jet charter operator in the U.S., ranked by flight hours. It adds 59 aircraft and follows deals over the past year-and-a-half for number one Part 135 operator Gama Aviation Signature, 4th ranked Delta Private Jets, and 9th position TMC Jets. Another acquisition brought Avianis, a tech platform that executives have said is key in developing its digital private jet marketplace.
Most of all, today’s announcement marks Wheels Up’s two-year transition from a membership company focused on its branded King Air 350i turboprops to a diversified services provider with the second-largest private fleet for hire in the world behind Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets.
Wheels Up has acquired the first, fourth, ninth and tenth largest private jet charter operators in … [+]
In addition to expanding its fleet to around 350 aircraft, it brings the largest Citation X fleet in the U.S. and an extensive Part 145 maintenance operation that executives say will improve efficiency.
The super-midsize Citation Xs are among the fastest private jets on the market. They have the range to fly nonstop from coast-to-coast providing an opportunity to enter the fray with other significant players such as Directional Aviation’s Sentient Jet and FXAIR and Vista Global’s XO, all of which launched discounted fixed pricing for transcontinental flights last year.
“We’ve come to know and greatly respect Mountain Aviation’s talented team over the past few years and are excited to welcome them officially to our Wheels Up family,” said Kenny Dichter, Wheels Up Founder and Chief Executive Officer. “We are aligned on culture, forward vision, and business goals. This acquisition further strengthens the Wheels Up suite of products and services that we offer to our Members and Customers and enhances our unique total aviation solution positioning.”
While Mountain Aviation is a large player in the domestic charter market, like TMC, it’s not a well-known consumer brand, instead focusing on selling through brokers and the off-fleet programs of other operators like Wheels Up. Dichter says that it will continue to serve the wholesale market and supply the growing demand for his members.
Wheels Up Core members pay a $17,500 initial fee and $8,500 in annual dues. Joining gives them access to book various aircraft types with as little as 24 hours notice at contracted hourly rates that are capped. While prices are sometimes lower, the capped rates enable customers to budget their private air travel needs. In addition to its own fleet, Wheels Up uses vetted third-party operators. The Mountain Aviation deal will allow it to serve more customers with its own aircraft, something that could increase flexibility. No changes to the current Wheels Up memberships were announced today.
Mountain Aviation CEO Gregg Fahrenbruch will take on the new title of senior vice president, operations strategy, in addition to his current duties. The Mountain Aviation leadership team will remain unchanged, according to a press release. That’s similar its other acquisitions, although Wheels Up recently combined the aircraft management units from Delta Private Jets and Gama Aviation Signature.
Last year, Dichter told an industry conference Wheels Up is on track to break the billion-dollar sales mark this year. Founded in 2013, Dichter has previously said an IPO is likely, although he declined to specify timing.
Boosted by new consumers seeking to reduce COVID-19 exposure, Dichter told the audience at Corporate Jet Investor as of November, its flying was back to pre-pandemic levels. Mountain Aviation was founded in 1993. The company previously changed hands in 2014. Wheels Up was launched by Dichter in 2013 after selling Marquis Jet Partners, another company he started, to NetJets in 2010.
I’m Editor-in-Chief of DG Amazing Experiences, a weekly e-newsletter for private jet owners and Private Jet Card Comparisons, a buyer’s guide comparing over 250 jet card programs from major players like Flexjet, Jet Linx, NetJets, Sentient Jet, Wheels Up, VistaJet, and XO to newcomers like FlyExclusive and boutique brokers. You’ll also find performance profiles of popular private jets, from turboprops King Air 350, Pilatus PC-12 and HondaJet to the Phenom 300, Challenger 300 and 350, Gulfstream G450, G550, G650, G700, Bombardier’s popular Global Express family, the iconic Learjet and S-76 helicopter used by both Queen Elizabeth and Donald Trump. There’s a free guide explaining various options and even a guide for first-timers and specifically what you need to know before chartering. And before you fly, find out what’s an FBO. You’ll also find a Deal Book, cataloging M&A activity and launches by key players. I’ve spent my working career in travel and luxury media, for 14 years at Travel Agent magazine, where I began as a reporter, then covered the airline industry as Aviation Editor and ended up rising to Group Publisher. In 2000 I started Elite Traveler, a consumer lifestyle magazine distributed globally aboard private jets, where I was President and Editor-in-Chief until 2014. In 2007, I co-authored of “The Sky’s the Limit: Marketing to the New Jet Set.” In 2014 I wrote “23 Ways to Create More Sales Opportunities 25 Minutes,” and in 2016 I co-authored “Secrets of Selling to the Super Rich.” Verb named me as one of the Top 25 Digital Luxury Experts to follow. For more private aviation and news on jet cards, private aviation memberships, and fractional ownership, visit Private Jet Card Comparisons’ news updates.