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Private aviation supplier Wheels Up reported a 55 percent year-over-year increase in third-quarter revenue amid a private-aviation industrywide demand surge beyond what it can deliver with current supply constraints.
Total third-quarter revenue for Wheels Up, which went public earlier this year, was $302 million, up from $195 million in the third quarter of 2020. Total active Wheels Up users increased 29 percent to more than 12,000, and live flight legs increased 52 percent to 19,714.
While a favorable comparison to the Covid-19 impacts in 2020 accounted for some of the demand increase, the company also reported “strong flight demand across all cabin classes” as well as new business due to its acquisition of Mountain Aviation. The company also “is seeing success selling to Delta [Air Lines’] large base of corporate customers” via its new Up for Business offering, in which corporate customers can manage pre-funded accounts for use in both private jet travel with Wheels Up and commercial air travel with Delta, Wheels Up chairman and CEO Kenny Dichter said in an earnings call.
Dichter acknowledged that Wheels Up is facing supply challenges amid “unprecedented demand” that “will take some time and patience to address.” Reuters in recent weeks reported global delays in shipping and other supply chain disruptions have made it more difficult and expensive to procure parts for aircraft, for example. The biggest limiting factor for Wheels Up, however, is the ability to hire enough pilots, Dichter said.
To help alleviate that, Wheels Up has increased compensation and benefits for its pilots to attract more talent, he said. It also is investing in maintenance and technology, which is causing “some short-term margin pressure” to gain and retain customer confidence and satisfaction, according to Dichter.
In addition, Wheels Up next month will raise membership requirements for new customers, including requiring more advance notice ahead of travel, raising pricing and requiring larger block commitments for peak-day guarantees. “These program changes will allow us to prioritize our current resources and support our existing customers while continuing to sell programs that we can confidently deliver to our new customers,” Dichter said.
Such demand management strategies have become more common across the industry. Forbes in recent weeks reported that both Flexjet and NetJets raised hourly rates for jet cards and ultimately stopped sales completely to deal with rising demand.
For Wheels Up, CFO Eric Jacobs said he expected such measures would be “short-term” as the company invests in its ability to respond to growing demand.
Wheels Up reported a net loss of $58.5 million for the quarter, compared with net income of $20.5 million in the third quarter of 2020. Beside the additional cost pressures from supply constraints and compensation expenses for pilots this year, the 2020 results also included $51.6 million in federal funding from the CARES Act.
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