Wheels Up said on Friday it would join rotorcraft maker Bell Textron in launching helicopter service by the end of the year. The operation will expand service to Wheels Up members and customers who charter and share private jet flights. It will also match travelers booking airline tickets on Delta Air Lines and will likely include scheduled shuttle flights.
With its January acquisition of Mountain Aviation, Wheels Up is neck and neck with Directional’s Flexjet unit as the second largest for-hire operator in North America. In February, Directional announced it had acquired Associated Aircraft Group (AAG), which sells fractional shares and jet cards on a fleet of helicopters in the northeastern United States.
The idea of urban mobility – conquering the last mile between airports and final destinations or instead of driving to work – has attracted dozens of names old and new in recent years.
In a press release issued early Friday morning, Wheels Up Founder and CEO Kenny Dichter said, “We are always looking for different ways and new features to improve the services we provide to our members and customers, and that’s is a logical evolution of our systematic system. disruption of the aviation industry and a vision to expand our holistic approach to air travel. “
In an interview on UKTN, Dichter said there are currently 8,000 helicopters in the United States, of which 2,500 are available for hire.
Wheels Up has a long-standing relationship with Textron’s Beechcraft and Cessna units, with a large fleet centered on the King Air 350i, Citation XLS and Citation X private jets.
In a joint interview, Scott Donnelly, President and CEO of Textron, told the Commercial Network: “This will be the first time that you will see someone enter this field in a real way and in a platform way. from Wheels Up, a huge customer base accustomed to this on-demand airlift capability, and moving it into the world of VTOL helicopters is a logical extension. “
Details of the deal with Bell were not disclosed, and the press release describes the arrangement as an initiative designed to “lead the industry in both short-term and long-term vertical take-off and landing solutions.” , also known as VTOL.
The deal with Bell comes on top of Wheels Up’s partnership with operator Heliflite, according to a source. This link dates back to 2013. In July 2019, Wheels Up started offering its members the option to “purchase a 10 or 20 hour HeliCard to ensure guaranteed availability of the ski lifts”.
In addition to 350 aircraft owned, leased and managed, Wheels Up sells charter flights to approximately 90 third-party operators who go through a safety screening and verification process.
The deal also gives Delta, Wheels Up’s largest individual shareholder, a head start over rival United Airlines. In February, UKTN reported that the Chicago-based carrier had placed a billion-dollar order for 200 Archer eVTOL jets, with an option to purchase another 100 for $ 500 million. However, they will not enter service until at least 2024.
Dichter said he sees the VTOL opportunity as global. Documents related to its SPAC merger that will place Wheels UP on the NYSE under the symbol UP call for international expansion. Helicopter travel is already a mainstay in many parts of the world, including Brazil, India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where urban sprawl and congestion make it a near necessity.
During the UKTN segment, Dichter said switching to VTOLs was part of his democratization strategy. Since 2016, he has been selling memberships through Costco. Its King Air strategy has helped expand private flying to a larger demographic.
For its part, Directional has not provided any updates since announcing that its OneSky Flight unit had acquired AAG from Lockheed Martin. OneSky includes Flexjet, the second largest fractional fleet operator, Sentient, a major player in jet cards, and on-demand brokers FXAIR and PrivateFly. Directional founder and director Kenn Ricci separately launched a SPAC last year, specifically targeting future flight concepts.
This year, Maryland-based GrandView Aviation announced plans to start a regular seat helicopter service connecting College Park, Washington DC and New York City by the summer under the Fly Lindy name.
Blade, which like Wheels Up plans to publicly negotiate through a SPAC merger, has announced it is expanding its helicopter service to Chicago. In recent years, it has expanded its per-seat options from helicopters to private jets, with regular seasonal flights from New York to Miami and Aspen, while giving customers the flexibility to create their own shared flights.