WheelsUp plans to go public and buy up private jet competitors

WheelsUp has hired advisors for a possible public offering in hopes of becoming the Uber or Airbnb of private jets, the company’s CEO told CNBC.

Kenny Dichter, CEO and co-founder of WheelsUp, said the company has hired Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Jefferies to plan a possible public offering. He said the goal is to use its stock as currency to acquire or merge with competitors and bring private jet travel to a broader public through new technology.

“What if it were as easy to book a private airplane as it was to book an Uber or Airbnb?,” Dichter said

The possible offering comes amidst a broad shake-up in the private jet market. New apps have made it easier to book flights on-demand, while a glut of planes and competitors are all vying for a dominant share. VistaJet last year acquired XOJET, the on-demand charter company, while Directional Aviation bought U.K.-based PrivateFly, a digital booking service. At the same time, a number of start-ups with bold plans to disrupt the industry, like BlackJet and Beacon, have shut down in recent years.

There are “a lot of subscale players in our space,” with 1,000 operators and more than 5,000 private aircraft “that can play in this marketplace,” Dichter said. WheelsUp plans to double its membership from 5,000 to 10,000 in the next three or four years, he said.

Unlike NetJets, which mainly sells fractional ownership, or conventional jet charter companies, WheelsUp charges customers an annual subscription fee and per-hour flight fees, starting at around $4,500 an hour.

Dichter said the key to WheelsUp strategy is its brand and technology, driven by the company’s 50-person tech-team. The company has also put a big focus on sports, with a roster of athletes including Tom Brady, Serena Williams and Rickie Fowler.

“We have the billion-dollar brand,” he said.

Investors of course, may have the final say.

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