Five weeks after announcing a rescue package led by Delta Air Lines, Wheels Up said the deal has closed. It comes after continued losses, deteriorating cash and reports by CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters over the past several months that the New York-based private jet flight provider would need to seek bankruptcy protection.
According to the press release, “The new investment structure combines the experience of Delta, the No. 1 premium airline, with the travel and tourism focus of Certares and turnaround and restructuring experience of Knighthead. It includes an agreement for a $500 million credit facility to Wheels Up, with funds contributed by Delta and CK Wheels LLC, co-managed by affiliates of Certares and Knighthead, and Cox.”
The final agreement includes a $250 million term loan and a $100 million revolving credit facility. The investing group will end up controlling 95% of the private aviation company.
In the end, Wheels Up has a chance to escape a perfect storm of too much demand, rising costs, Covid-related supply and labor issues, and operational challenges of merging multiple acquisitions.
Earlier this year Wheels Up cut the area it offers capped rates, a move designed to reduce the number and length of empty legs - repositioning flights, where airplanes fly empty to pick up customers. Most jet card membership programs only charge clients for the time they are in the airplane.
It is also in the process of selling assets it doesn’t consider core to its business, including its aircraft management business.
“This investment represents both an important source of capital for Wheels Up to support our strategy for financial stability, future profitability, and long-term growth on behalf of our members and customers, as well a vote of confidence in our path forward from a group of investors with deep experience in the premium travel space,” said George Mattson, a Delta Board Member who was named new CEO of Wheels Up last week.
He noted, “We look forward to working closely with Delta and our other investors to deliver best-in-class operating performance and an exceptional customer experience which, as we deepen our commercial partnership, will also enable us to provide a one-of-a-kind seamless connection between private and premium commercial travel.”
Dan Janki, Delta’s CFO, who was appointed Chairman of the private jet company last month, added, “Wheels Up is an integral part of Delta’s portfolio of premium partners, and this deep relationship offers a significant opportunity to deliver compelling benefits to our customers that are unique in the travel space. This investment and new leadership puts Wheels Up on a strong path to future success.”
With an eye on becoming a public company, the 2013 start-up started a growth spurt in 2019 that saw it acquire a half dozen companies, including Delta Private Jets, which gave the Atlanta-based airline a 28% stake at the time.
Following its July 2021 IPO, Wheels Up benefited from the surge in private jet travel demand created by the Covid pandemic. However, it struggled to merge the different operators it acquired.
The result was extra costs as it had to charter aircraft from other operators, paying tens of millions of dollars to ensure it had enough jets available when customers needed them.
Because it offered capped rates to members who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance for future flights, it also found itself losing money when members flew.
Wheels Up’s challenges mounted as it kept selling to new members even when key competitors such as NetJets, Flexjet, Sentient Jet, Jet Linx Aviation, and others put the brakes on sales.
It was also slow to implement price increases and fuel surcharges. Moreover, because of government restrictions, when a pilot was sick and couldn’t fly, it couldn’t use a pilot from a sister operator, even if that pilot was qualified to fly that type of aircraft.
Only in the summer of 2022 did it finally consolidate its operations from its multiple operators in one place, at least making it easier to source airplanes for customers and replace them when there was a mechanical – something it was contractually bound to do.
This article originally appeared on Forbes