Back in the day when business aviation watchers asked “Why not use Beech King Airs on legs of less than three hours?” – they were talking about air taxis. That revolution never happened. But now, Kenny Dichter, who founded Marquis Jet and was the innovator of the 25‐hour fractional jet card, has done just that.

When Dichter launched the Wheels Up membership program in August 2013 he chose as the core of his fleet the ubiquitous King Air. And he ordered 105 of them to prove his point. Dichter says he identified a need for a one-stop private aviation solution with a modest initiation fee, reasonable annual dues and very competitive hourly flight rates.

The King Air 350i program is operated by Gama Charters Inc for Wheels Up, which acts as booking agent for members, with Beechcraft responsible for maintenance. “Memberships are going very well, at 750, and we’re projecting 1,000+ by year’s end,” when the fleet will comprise 27 King Air 350is and 10 Citation Excels and XLSs, plus three to five Global 5000s belonging to VistaJet.

“We’ll have better than 40 aircraft available (by the end of this year), and by end of 2015 we’re looking for between 2,250-2,500 members and around 60-70 aircraft in the fleet. Right now we’re averaging deliveries of two aircraft per month and penciling out our 2015-16 action plan,” Dichter told ShowNews.

Committed to reducing the cost of flying while providing flexibility and service, Wheels Up charges its members a set participation fee ($15,750 for individuals and $25,000 for companies) plus an aircraft hourly rate. Ultimately, the company predicts between 10,000 and 15,000 members, each taking 20 to 30 hours annually. “In five years, we plan to be number one in North America,” says Dichter.

Through partnerships with industry leaders, Wheels Up has been quickly unfolding a suite of offers to members. The Citations will be operated and managed by Gama Charters Inc. Jet Aviation Flight Services will operate VistaJet’s five Global 5000s, with Wheels Up acting as exclusive booking agent for the VistaJet brand in the U.S. and committed to making it a major player in the North American marketplace.

Wheels Up also offers a 25‐hour ‘Powered by Jet Aviation’ pre‐purchase program whose member benefits include guaranteed availability, a 10‐hour advance call-out period, guaranteed pricing per occupied hour, and 25% roundtrip bonus price reduction. It gives members access to Jet Aviation’s midsize, super midsize and large aircraft fleets. Another link-up provides helicopter transfers between Manhattan and the Tri-State area with HeliFlite’s fleet of Bell 430s and Sikorsky S-76s.

Wheels Up currently covers the northeast, southeast and southwest United States. “We’re busy in all of the market places that we’re serving,” Dichter says. “In the northeast, which is where we have the most assets and most members, we’re seeing folks choosing the King Air versus late model light jets. We’re breaking (operating) records every week. Currently it’s around 44-45 flights per day.”

Expansion on West Coast, Europe

Wheels Up’s West Coast operation at Van Nuys, California, is the latest to be expanded. Next year, says Dichter, he plans to move into Western Europe, in the third or fourth quarter.

Since announcement of the program at EBACE Geneva in May, he says, “the response has been tremendous from the community. We’ve already had interest from U.S. corporations who are flying on our King Airs in North America, enquiring how they can extend the relationship in the States to either their European subsidiaries or their European executives.”

The European aircraft, probably an initial core fleet of between three and five, will be operated and managed by Gama Aviation, possibly from one of London’s airports.

“I think there is a 100+ marketplace opportunity for the King Airs in Europe. In contrast, the marketplace in the U.S. is for around 200-300 airplanes. I don’t know exactly how many yet but that’s what it feels like to me, ” says Dichter.