Wheels Up

A new kind of private aviation.

Spring 2016: Inquiring Minds, Wheels Up

“What people really don’t have anymore,” muses Miles Rogers, “is time.”

Fair enough. But it’s not the kind of thing you’d expect someone in the private aviation business to talk about. Luxury, comfort, prestige—sure. But time?

Keep listening, however, and it makes a lot of sense. As the chief strategy officer for Wheels Up, one of the fastest-growing private aviation companies in North America, Rogers understands that the allure of private aviation has never really been about the money you spend. Rather, it’s about the time you don’t.

“[We] give people that time,” Rogers continues, “whether it’s adding an extra night or being able to set your own departure time. It comes down to people being able to add almost a day to their vacation on each end.”

This sense of time—not just minimizing it, but improving the quality of it—is the core of the company’s business. Rather than wasting minutes or hours in check-in and security lines, you get on board and go: use the company’s custom app to book your reservation, and your plane is ready within 24 hours. Instead of ruing the time spent crammed next to strangers and drinking bad coffee, you can actually look forward to flying. “Really, the beauty of Wheels Up is the trip or the experience begins as soon as you get to the airplane,” Rogers says.

Of course, Wheels Up isn’t the only company offering private aviation. But they do business differently, functioning more like a private club than an ownership group. Because members aren’t owners, there’s no up-front capital outlay, nor do members pay for ongoing management or service fees. Members can even join with each other to book flights. “It’s like a high-end luxury car pool,” Rogers says.

“Really, the beauty of Wheels Up is the trip or the experience begins as soon as you get to the airplane.”

While most private aviation companies choose bigger, better, faster, and more, Wheels Up opted for a decidedly more practical fleet, composed mostly of the King Air 350i, a turboprop that offers more cabin space, more payload, and a lot less cost than comparable jets. The aircraft are great for short missions, and 80 per cent of the private flights taken are under two hours long.

As for economics, Rogers admits Wheels Up isn’t for those pinching pennies. Individual initiation fees will put you back $17,500 (all currencies U.S.); annual dues are about half that. “It’s never been a jump off the spreadsheet compared to an economy airline ticket,” Rogers admits. “It is still a luxury item. But we’re able to certainly make it more affordable for people who were flying privately before.”

Case in point: Los Angeles to Las Vegas. At the company’s hourly flying rate of $3,950, filling a nine-passenger King Air costs about $450 per seat. “That makes the experience look like better value than commercial first class,” Rogers says.

The proposition seems to be resonating. Over 2,000 members strong, the company has just raised $100-million in an equity private placement, which is money that will be used to expand the fleet, build out booking technology, set up a base of operations in Europe, and fuel Canadian and U.S. expansion. This time, the sky really is the limit.