Wheels Up, the U.S.-based aircraft access membership program scheduled to begin service this November, has named Gama Charters of Stratford, Conn., a subsidiary of Farnborough, UK-based Gama Group, as operator of its U.S.-based fleet of Beechcraft King Air 350i turboprops.
Wheels Up (Booth No. C12749) placed an order this summer for up to 105 of the twin turboprops (35 firm plus 70 options) along with tip-to-tail aftermarket support from Beechcraft, in a contract worth up to $1.4 billion according to both companies. Wheels Up will take delivery of the first 350i here at the convention, and another eight before the end of the year.
“Gama has deep experience with the King Air,” said Wheels Up founder and CEO Kenny Dichter, who noted that the company operates King Airs for the Scottish Ambulance Service. “It’s a 24/7/365 response program, which demonstrated to us that they could handle the type of operation that Wheels Up is going to provide.”
Wheels Up intends to operate the King Airs in seven “regional clusters,” each with a 700-nm service radius. The first nine aircraft are slated for service in the Northeast U.S., with New Jersey’s Teterboro airport at the epicenter of the service area.
“Gama Charters is extremely pleased to be aligned with Kenny Dichter and Wheels Up, as both our companies share strong values of superior quality, safety and recognized leadership in private aviation,” said Gama Charters president Tom Connelly.
Wheels Up plans on offering its members access to a complete range of aircraft categories. In September the company became the exclusive representative in the U.S. for access to VistaJet’s fleet of Bombardier Global long-range jets, under the operation of Jet Aviation, and Dichter told AIN the company soon expects to announce partnerships with operators of light, mid-size, super-mid and large-cabin jets. “We want to deliver the most efficient way that people can experience private aviation,” Dichter said. He sees Wheels Up as a “democratizing” force in the industry, providing members with access to a range of aircraft without large deposits or asset buy-ins.
Wheels Up membership costs $15,750 and annual dues are $7,250; hourly rate for the King Airs is $3,950 and, for the Globals, $15,950. Wheels Up will have a $25,000 corporate membership program, details of which are yet to be announced.
Wheels Up will complement its air transportation offering with “Wheels Down,” which Dichter described as an “off the ramp, experiential arm” providing members with access to exclusive activities and unique experiences, such as private concerts, intimate gatherings with noteworthy figures, and tickets to major sports events.
Dichter, who also founded Marquis Jets (which was acquired by NetJets in 2010) believes such offerings are important to members and to the success of the program. The 2014 Wheels Down events calendar will be released on December 17 in New York City at a kickoff members’ event, Dichter said.
As for other activities planned for here at the show, Dichter said, “It’s going to be great walking around NBAA with the keys to a 350i I got from [Beechcraft CEO] Bill Boisture.”