Delta Consortium To Take Control of Wheels Up, Provide $500 Million

Here's the latest development in a fast-changing story.

A consortium led by Delta Air Lines and investment firms Certares and Knighthead recently announced a tentative deal to take over 95 percent of Wheels Up for $500 million. The plan provides Wheels Up with a $400 million term loan plus a $100 million “liquidity facility” from Delta.

Last week, Delta announced that it was providing Wheels Up with short-term financing of $15 million. Under the plan, Todd Smith will remain as Wheels Up's interim CEO, while Delta chief financial officer Dan Janki replaces Ravi Thakran as Wheels Up's chairman.

"The partnership will create new opportunities for Wheels Up to drive strategic, operational, and financial improvements for its customers in the months and years ahead” and “speed Wheels Up on its path to profitability," said Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

Prior to this announcement, Delta was Wheels Up's largest individual shareholder, holding 20 percent of the company, which it had received in exchange for selling Delta Private Jets to Wheels Up in 2013. Last year, Wheels Up announced that it was moving its operations center to Atlanta—the city where Delta is headquartered—and that it had hired retired Delta executive Dave Holtz to run it as chairman of operations.

Late yesterday, Wheels Up released its second-quarter 2023 10-Q financial report, which showed losses of $161 million on $335 million in revenues. But the report also contained indications that a turnaround plan being implemented by Smith was beginning to show positive results after the company posted nearly $1 billion in losses over the previous nine quarters—$555 million last year alone—during a period of rapid expansion and revenue growth.

Smith said that instituted reforms had improved operational and flight-segment performance. However, as the results from the Wheels Up latest 10-Q indicated, more time is needed for those reforms to provide profitability.

In the interim, even with Delta’s recent $15 million in assistance,  Wheels Up was in danger of violating loan covenants on its aircraft as cash on hand at the end of the second quarter had dwindled to $152 million against more than $800 million in customer prepaid flight hours. The situation prompted Wheels Up to issue a “going concern” warning.