Beechcraft Lands Blockbuster $1.4 Billion King Air Deal

** Beechcraft King Air 350i**

Kenny Dichter, the former vice chairman of NetJets and creator of the jet card concept as founder of Marquis Jet, is pouring his creative energy into a new endeavor anchored around the workhorse Beechcraft King Air 350i. Dichter’s new company, Wheels Up, has placed an order for 105 of the versatile twin turboprops and full maintenance in a history-making deal valued at $1.4 billion.

Billed as the next revolution in private air travel, Wheels Up initially will launch later this year in the Northeast before expanding to other parts of the country. Dichter told Flying the concept is a membership-based air travel club that will charge clients annual dues of $7,250 and a per-hour rate in the specially branded Wheels Up King Airs of $3,950. First year's dues are $15,750, and members are predicted to fly 20 to 30 hours a year. A companion concierge service called Wheels Down will provide members with perks such as access to tickets to the Super Bowl, PGA events, concerts and more.

The deal includes a comprehensive maintenance contract with Beechcraft valued at $600 million, with the remaining $788 million going toward the airplanes. That puts their price at around $7.5 million apiece and makes the deal the largest ever for general aviation propeller airplanes. The Wheels Up King Airs will seat eight passengers, have more than double the full-fuel payload capability of light jets like the Cessna Citation CJ2+, and be able to link dozens of popular city pairs with a range of more than 1,700 nm. Pilot training will be provided through FlightSafety.

Shawn Vick, executive vice president for sales and marketing at Beechcraft, said the first nine airplanes for the Wheels Up program will be delivered in the fourth quarter. Another 26 will join the fleet over the next 15 months, with the remainder of the King Airs to be delivered through 2018.

"The time has come for the smart money to gain access to airplanes at a significantly lower cost versus jets," Vick said. Beechcraft earlier this year emerged from bankruptcy after shedding the Hawker line of jets, from the Premier I up through the Hawker 4000. Beechcraft is now considering launching a single-engine turboprop based on the Premier's fuselage. Dichter said he will evaluate other aircraft types that might be a good fit for Wheels Up after the service has gained momentum with the King Air 350i.

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