Aviation

Wheels Up exercises second option for 35 King Airs

From left, Patrick Buckles, King Air business leader, poses with Kenny Dichter, CEO of Wheels Up, and Scott Ernest, Textron Aviation CEO, following Wheels Up’s announcement at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exposition that it was exercising a second option to purchase 35 King Air 350is.
From left, Patrick Buckles, King Air business leader, poses with Kenny Dichter, CEO of Wheels Up, and Scott Ernest, Textron Aviation CEO, following Wheels Up’s announcement at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exposition that it was exercising a second option to purchase 35 King Air 350is. Courtesy photo

Kenny Dichter’s company is growing, and it’s the reason why Wheels Up on Tuesday exercised an option for 35 more Beechcraft King Airs from Textron Aviation.

Dichter, Wheels Up founder and CEO, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the King Air 350i deal, which includes service and maintenance of the turboprop airplanes his private aviation membership company is acquiring, is valued at $500 million.

“The Wheels Up business plan is working very, very well,” said Dichter, speaking from Geneva, Switzerland, where the European Business Aviation Convention & Exposition opened Tuesday. “We’ve now achieved 1,350 members that fly the fleet. As we grow the membership, we need the airplanes.”

The deal with Wichita-based Textron Aviation will bring Wheels Up’s total number of firm orders for the King Air 350i to 70. The exercised option stems from a 2013 order placed by Wheels Up for as many as 105 of the King Airs.

To date, Wheels Up has received 31 of the first 35 firm orders it made. Deliveries of the second round of 35 are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2016.

Dichter said the New York-based privately held company expects to add between 800 and 1,000 more members this year. Wheels Up revenue for 2015 should be $150 million, he said, and “we plan to double that to $300 million in revenue in 2016.”

He added that Europe is a focus for expansion for Wheels Up.

Dicther said the company’s relationship with Textron Aviation extends beyond the King Airs. It also has 10 pre-owned Cessna Citation Excel/XLS jets, and he said Wheels Up plans to double that to 20 over the next year.

“Nobody’s been a bigger supporter of Wheels Up than (Textron Aviation CEO) Scott Ernest and his executive team,” Dichter said. “They’re supporting our vision.”

Dichter said he visited all the booths run by airplane makers at EBACE on Tuesday. “The Textron booth was the busiest and most active,” he said.

Textron Aviation also announced Tuesday at EBACE that the European Aviation Safety Agency has granted certification for the Cessna Citation CJ3-Plus business jet, which allows deliveries of the the light business jet there to begin later this year.

Bombardier forecast

Also at EBACE Tuesday, Bombardier Business Aircraft released its 10-year forecast, which predicts there will be 9,000 business jet deliveries between 2015 and 2024 valued at $267 billion in industry revenue.

The forecast by the Canadian parent of Wichita’s Learjet said North America will account for most of the new jet deliveries in that 10-year period, with 3,900 aircraft. Europe will account for the second-highest number of deliveries, at 1,525.

Bombardier added it expects to deliver 210 business aircraft in 2015.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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