Wheels Up hires advisors for 'strategic initiatives' including possible acquisitions

Key Points
  • Wheels Up has hired Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Jefferies, the company's CEO told CNBC.
Here's where the private aviation sector is headed
Here's where the private aviation sector is headed

Wheels Up has hired bankers for "strategic initiatives" that could include acquisitions, the company's CEO told CNBC.

"We have hired advisors to assist us with our pursuit of strategic initiatives that include exploring acquisition opportunities and expansion of our digital platform," Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter told CNBC in a statement Wednesday evening.

"Our plan calls for leveraging proprietary technology that will allow Wheels Up to bring private air travel to the broader public, and make booking a private airplane as simple as booking an Uber or an Airbnb," the statement said.

Earlier Wednesday, Dichter told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that the company has hired Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Jefferies.

Asked by CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin whether his intent was to roll up other companies as part of an initial public offering, Dichter responded, "I think it's all connected. You need currency to be able to consolidate folks."

Big changes in private jet industry

The strategic push 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. Wheels Up 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, Wheels Up charges customers an annual subscription fee and per-hour flight fees, starting at around $4,500 an hour.

"What if it were as easy to book a private airplane as it was to book an Uber or Airbnb?" Dichter asked.

Dichter said the key to Wheels Up 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.

Correction: This story has been updated to more narrowly reflect the nature of the work that Wheels Up has hired advisors to do.