Wheels Up | Dangerous Older Aircraft Situation

By James Smith:

I’m an freelance editor covering private aviation.

Listen to this alarming moment when a Wheels Up aircraft had a serious takeoff and inflight malfunction, putting passengers in extreme danger. Wheels Up, Wheels Down.

“Passengers I think they’re going to be okay, but they’re gonna be pretty upset.”

I started this free forum platform after working many years in the private jet industry for one of the bigger well known private aviation providers. 

In this specific article, it goes to show that it is good to know before you fly.  Over the past year, PrivateJetClubs.com has gone into depth about private jet programs, first and foremost their safety reputation.

The door on Wheels Up N508UP Cessna Citation XLS swung open on Aug. 6, 2015. A live recording from the emergency cockpit (shown below) detailed what happened on the flight from San Francisco en route to Michigan. Five passengers and two crew members on board were all reported to be OK, however, in the recording the pilot says, “they’re gonna be pretty upset.”

The recording states the aircraft continued to fly in the clouds with its door down. The crew attempted but ultimately could not climb to get out of the clouds or maintain its elevation, stated by Flying Magazine. Due to the heroic efforts of the pilots, they were able to make a successful emergency landing in San Francisco; fortunately the SFO airport has a runway length of 11,870 feet. With a majority of private flights arriving and departing in smaller private airports, this situation with the Wheels Up aircraft door being ajar mid flight could have ended a lot worse. If it had been at a popular airport destination such as Aspen, which has been reported as one of the more difficult approaches, more complications would have been present.  (see reference LA Times)

According to an article on Business Insider, Dave Hewitt of WheelsUp said,

“As is typical with aviation events, Wheels Up cannot provide any information while an FAA review is underway.  However, we can confirm that the main entry door of the aircraft remained attached throughout the flight in question,” (Plane Door Flies Open on Wheels up Flight (businessinsider.com)

What we can tell you is this…

An article from Aircraft Exchange, an exclusive online marketplace of the International Aircraft Dealers Association, provides useful information such as “Total cycles, Total flight hours, total APU time since new (avionics), meticulous maintenance records, enrollment in an aircraft service plan”.

These factors should be considered whether purchasing an aircraft or flying with an aircraft provider such as the well-known ones like NetJets or WheelsUp.

This photo obtained by Privatejetsclub.com shows the lease agreement between Wheels Up Partners LLC and Textron Financial Corporation for N509UP in October of 2014. As of October 24th, 2014, this aircraft manufactured in 2005 had 8119.7 total hours on it.  After 16 long years and one door ripped open mid-flight, this tired Citation XLS (N509UP) is still flying to this day for Wheels Up according to Flight Aware, a digital aviation company that operates the world’s largest flight tracking and data platform.

11 thoughts on “Wheels Up | Dangerous Older Aircraft Situation

  1. This is crazy how many hours were on that aircraft when they purchased it in 2014… no wonder the door flew off!!

  2. Was considering a wheels up membership but seems like safety isn’t their main priority.

  3. As a pilot and aviation safety aerospace engineer professional with over 30 years of experience, a door opening in flight – although unnerving, happens from time to time. This door issue was investigated and corrective action take to fix the problem. All airplanes are regularly inspected and maintained and 8,000 hours is fairly typical age for an airplane. Jets can easily go past 25,000 flight hours because they are maintained. Considering that the average age of the business jet fleet is about 18.2 years, this Cessna that was built in 2005 is still in the average range and is still flying in the WheelsUp fleet. All operators of airplanes are required to have inspection and maintenance programs that are approved by the FAA – similar to the airlines – so they meet the safety standards. If they do not pass inspection, the problems are fixed so that when they are returned to service, they are safe. All of the commenters have the right to their opinions on safety and what airplanes they choose to fly aboard, but the facts are that the USA has one, if not the best aviation safety system in the world. So, whatever company you fly with, the planes are maintained to the same high standards. I am not affiliated with any aviation business and make no comments on scheduling, delays or service quality of any operator. Most delays are due to repairs or crew. It takes time to fix these problems and only when they are fixed are the planes allowed to fly. I hope these comments bring some piece of mind when flying. Stay safe. Regards.

  4. Lots of very ignorant comments here. I have flown several thousand passengers in air carrier aircraft as much as 67 years old (though not pressurized), and one engine type I have flown does not even require overhaul until 7,000 hours. N509UP has a long career ahead of her.

  5. Interesting how someone could call a door malfunction in mid flight an ignorant comment… Would love to see that same comment if that were your family inside not knowing the end result… God bless those heroes for safely landing… Shouldn’t have had to be put in that situation.

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