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Growth of Wheels Up Driving More Corporate Pilot Job Opportunities

Wheels Up King Air 350

Wheels Up launched in 2013 with an order for 35 King Air 350i. The order at the time was worth $1.4 billion and included options for another 70 King Airs plus maintenance support from Hawker Beechcraft.

Industry people were skeptical of the new company. They didn’t doubt the ability of the skills of the leadership team – but they were skeptical that customers would want to fly on King Airs.

Several years since their start and Wheels Up has proven the skepticism unfounded. Not only have they taken delivery of 63 King Airs, but have added Citation XL and Citation XLS jet aircraft to a fleet that numbers over 90.

Wheels Up is projected to add 15 to 20 airplanes to their operation each year for the foreseeable future.

Wheels Up Offering a Different Approach to Corporate Jets

Corporate jet operations typically exist in one of three ways:

  • Private Ownership where an individual owns an airplane and employees the people that operate it.
  • Corporate Flight department where business aircraft are owned and operated by a company. These can exist as small one-of airplanes or entire flight departments with several airplanes.
  • Fractional ownership programs where private individuals or companies can buy a fraction of an airplane. The fractional ownership company then manages and operates the airplane on their behalf.
  • Charter operations where individuals or companies arrange on a case-by-case basis to rent the services of an airplane and crew.

Wheels Up has introduced a new approach to corporate jet access by offering a membership service. The Wheels Up model offers customers the option of a pay-as-you-fly service.

Individual and Family Memberships are guaranteed 300 days of availability per year with only 24 hours of advance notice needed for bookings. The more expensive Corporate Membership option guarantees 315 days of availability each year.

Wheels Up Citation XLS

The Wheels Up individual plan requires members to pay a one-time initiation fee, currently $17,500, with annual dues of $8,500 per year starting in year two. Members then have an option of a pay-as-you-go model or they can pre-purchase blocks of hours to more availability guarantees and additional benefits.

Wheels Up has a lower price point for corporate jet access than previous models and is making corporate jet flying accessible to more people. The company says that 30 to 35 percent of new member growth is coming from people that had previously only used the airlines.

Wheels Up offers a shared flight program where members can propose flights to share with other members to reduce the cost.

Costco is now offering Wheels Up memberships to their members.

Wheels Up Fleet is Operated By Gama Aviation

Pilots wishing to pursue a corporate jet career by working for Wheels Up will need to seek employment with Gama Aviation. Gama is currently hiring first officers and captains to staff King Airs.

Wheels Up King Air Rear View

Gama stated requirements to apply to a captain position include:

  • First Class Medical Certificate
  • Valid passport without restrictions to Mexico and the Caribbean
  • Eligible for CANPASS

Requirements to apply to a first officer position include:

  • First Class Medical Certificate
  • Valid passport without restrictions to Mexico and the Caribbean
  • Eligible for CANPASS
  • Meet ATP time requirements (ATP-CTP course available for candidates without a valid written exam)

Pilots must sign a 12 month training contract to work with Gama Aviation. If they do not stay through a year of employment pilots are required to repay a prorated share of their training costs.

All First Officers receive pilot in command training to include a pilot in command type rating.

Wheels Up Pilot Schedules

Pilots at Wheels Up Work 8 days at a time followed by 6 days off. Pilots are home based and are transported to/from their duty assignments from their assigned base during their 8 days of scheduled work. The company currently lists 72 cities in the United States as available for basing.

The schedule pilots work during their 8 days of work is fluid – with pilots often learning of their day’s itinerary the previous day.

Wheels Up Pilot Pay

Pilot compensation includes:

  • 50% match on the first 6% of your 401K contribution
  • Medical Insurance
  • Dental Insurance
  • Vision Insurance
  • 8 days of vacation accruall per year
  • Extra pay for working in to scheduled days off

Pilots are paid a per diem rate of $59/day domestic and $65/day international.

Wheels Up Annual Pilot Salary

Year Captain First Officer
1 90,000 55,000
2 94,000 60,000
3 98,000 65,000
4 102,000 70,000
5 106,000 80,000
6 108,000 82,000
7 110,000 83,000
8 112,000 85,000
9 115,000 87,000
10 117,000 88,000

Greg started his professional pilot journey in 2002 after graduating from Embry Riddle. Since that time he has accumulated over 8,000 hours working as a pilot. Greg’s professional experience includes flight instructing, animal tracking, backcountry flying, forest firefighting, passenger charter, part 135 cargo, flying for a regional airline, a national low cost airline, a legacy airline, and also working as a manager in charge of Part 135 and Part 121 training programs.

Greg Thomson