Kenny Dichter, the CEO and founder of private aviation membership company Wheels Up, calls Wichita’s Textron Aviation “a partner.”
And at the Wichita Aero Club’s monthly luncheon Thursday at Crestview Country Club, it was clear that that partnership is valued by Textron Aviation, which was represented by CEO Scott Ernest, senior vice president Brad Thress and more than a dozen other employees.
Wheels Up is an important customer for one of the city’s largest employers, Textron Aviation.
The New York-based company in 2013 announced the largest order ever for Beechcraft King Airs, up to 105 King Air 350i twin-turboprop airplanes. The order, combined with a maintenance package, was valued at the time at $1.4 billion.
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So far, the company has taken delivery of 58 King Airs, Dichter said Thursday. But he envisions Wheels Up owning a lot more.
“500 Kings can be in North America 10 years from now,” he told Aero Club.
Wheels Up also has a fleet of pre-owned Cessna Citation Excel and XLS business jets – purchased from Textron Aviation – which Dichter said total 15 aircraft. He said the company might eventually add larger Citation X midsize business jets as well.
Dichter also founded Marquis Jet in 2001, which offered a “jet card” with prepaid flight hours on private jets to customers. It was bought by Berkshire Hathaway, the parent company of fractional ownership company NetJets, in 2010.
Wheels Up memberships start at a one-time initiation fee of $17,500 and annual dues of $8,500. Members also pay an hourly rate for their flights.
Dichter said Wheels Up members now number about 4,000.
“The next shot that we want to get to … (is) 10,000 sticky members by 2020,” Dichter said.