Private plane service circles Richmond market

A private plane service is adding Richmond to its itinerary. Photos courtesy of Wheels Up.

A private plane service is adding Richmond to its itinerary. Photos courtesy of Wheels Up.

A New York-based private jet service is touching down in Richmond.

Wheels Up, which offers membership-based access to a fleet of aircraft, is setting up operations in the area and looking to compete against established local charter companies.

Its initial launch here includes the addition of Kim King as vice president of sales, who’s tasked with getting business off the ground around Richmond.

Wheels Up members pay a one-time initiation fee of $17,500 for individuals and families and $29,500 for corporate memberships. In the second year, a member starts paying annual dues – $8,500 for families and individuals and $14,500 for corporate. An hourly rate is also charged per flight: $3,950 for a King Air 350i and $6,950 for a Cessna Citation Excel.

Those two models make up the company’s “floating fleet,” which King said is initially made up of 40 jets  with more on the way. She said the aircraft are also part of the company’s competitive edge and they fuel its guarantee of access to a plane within 24 hours of a request for service.

“It allows our members to have that flexibility, availability and predictability,” she said.

King said the company tries to be an alternative to charter services. Richmond has several established charter companies, including locally based MartinAir and Dominion Aviation and national firms Million Air and ReadyJet.

The company owns all of its planes, none of which have been flown longer than 18 months. King said customers can know what aircraft they’re getting every time they book a flight.

Kim King

Kim King

“People don’t like surprises, externally or internally,” she said. “Every time, you’re going to get the same thing.”

The company’s planes are primarily kept in New York, Florida and on the West Coast. But King said as more members fly to more destinations, pick-ups become easier with planes spread across the country.

Wheels Up’s arrival in Richmond has it on the radar of local competitors.

Mike Mickel, president and CEO of locally-based charter company Dominion Aviation, said he wishes Wheels Up success but wonders whether the company’s model will prove effective in Richmond.

“I think it works in a town that does not have good charter companies,” Mickel said.

While he acknowledged the service offers lower up-front costs, Mickel sees the hourly rates are higher than traditional charters.

“I’ve had three or four of my customers look at the numbers pretty hard, and they’re still my customers,” Mickel said. “They decided not to go that route.”

Wheels Up was founded in August 2013 by Kenny Dichter, who was previously behind Marquis Jet, a fractional jet card service that allowed users to purchase flights by hours flown, as opposed to fractional ownership of a given plane. Marquis Jet was sold to Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets in 2010.

Wheels Up has accumulated 1,100 members across the country, including some clients in Richmond and Norfolk, King said.

Flights can be caught at any airport, King said, and members typically prefer those with private facilities.

The company is also launching an app that will allow members to share rides. Similar to ride service Uber, the app will let members to communicate with one another about available seats on planes and planned arrivals and departures.

A private plane service is adding Richmond to its itinerary. Photos courtesy of Wheels Up.

A private plane service is adding Richmond to its itinerary. Photos courtesy of Wheels Up.

A New York-based private jet service is touching down in Richmond.

Wheels Up, which offers membership-based access to a fleet of aircraft, is setting up operations in the area and looking to compete against established local charter companies.

Its initial launch here includes the addition of Kim King as vice president of sales, who’s tasked with getting business off the ground around Richmond.

Wheels Up members pay a one-time initiation fee of $17,500 for individuals and families and $29,500 for corporate memberships. In the second year, a member starts paying annual dues – $8,500 for families and individuals and $14,500 for corporate. An hourly rate is also charged per flight: $3,950 for a King Air 350i and $6,950 for a Cessna Citation Excel.

Those two models make up the company’s “floating fleet,” which King said is initially made up of 40 jets  with more on the way. She said the aircraft are also part of the company’s competitive edge and they fuel its guarantee of access to a plane within 24 hours of a request for service.

“It allows our members to have that flexibility, availability and predictability,” she said.

King said the company tries to be an alternative to charter services. Richmond has several established charter companies, including locally based MartinAir and Dominion Aviation and national firms Million Air and ReadyJet.

The company owns all of its planes, none of which have been flown longer than 18 months. King said customers can know what aircraft they’re getting every time they book a flight.

Kim King

Kim King

“People don’t like surprises, externally or internally,” she said. “Every time, you’re going to get the same thing.”

The company’s planes are primarily kept in New York, Florida and on the West Coast. But King said as more members fly to more destinations, pick-ups become easier with planes spread across the country.

Wheels Up’s arrival in Richmond has it on the radar of local competitors.

Mike Mickel, president and CEO of locally-based charter company Dominion Aviation, said he wishes Wheels Up success but wonders whether the company’s model will prove effective in Richmond.

“I think it works in a town that does not have good charter companies,” Mickel said.

While he acknowledged the service offers lower up-front costs, Mickel sees the hourly rates are higher than traditional charters.

“I’ve had three or four of my customers look at the numbers pretty hard, and they’re still my customers,” Mickel said. “They decided not to go that route.”

Wheels Up was founded in August 2013 by Kenny Dichter, who was previously behind Marquis Jet, a fractional jet card service that allowed users to purchase flights by hours flown, as opposed to fractional ownership of a given plane. Marquis Jet was sold to Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets in 2010.

Wheels Up has accumulated 1,100 members across the country, including some clients in Richmond and Norfolk, King said.

Flights can be caught at any airport, King said, and members typically prefer those with private facilities.

The company is also launching an app that will allow members to share rides. Similar to ride service Uber, the app will let members to communicate with one another about available seats on planes and planned arrivals and departures.

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