Fast 5: Charter On The Presidential Campaign Trail
Gregg Brunson-Pitts, founder and CEO of Advanced Aviation Team (AAT), a private jet charter brokerage based out of the Washington D.C. area, has a unique story of how he wound up in the business aviation industry. His first experience working around airplanes was to set up charter flights for the White House and for presidential campaigns.
How did you get your start in the presidential campaign aircraft charter business?
It’s a long story, but I’m happy to give you the quick rundown. I got connected to politics when I was in college and started volunteering on campaigns. I met some people who were working for President Bush, and they asked me to volunteer to drive in his motorcade, which of course I took them up on. From that, I received some business cards and kept in touch with people who ultimately recommended I apply to be a White House intern. I took the next step and was offered a spot in the White House Scheduling Office and went to Washington DC for a semester. Following that, I got offered a volunteer position setting up public events for the President, and I did that while having no plan for when I was going to graduate college. As luck would have it, I was offered a spot on President Bush’s reelection campaign. I was able to travel the world setting up public events for President Bush for about 18 months, and when he won the election, I was offered a position in the White House Travel Office. My job was to coordinate the charter aircraft that flies in tandem with Air Force One. This aircraft carries members of the White House Press Corps, Secret Service and staff that Air Force One doesn’t have room for. I did that for President Bush’s second term, and when that ended, I went into the industry working for a couple different charter brokers before starting my own company in 2015. Before any of this, I didn’t have a background or family history in either aviation or politics, I just kind of showed up and started to work and learn what I needed to.
Are there any key moments that were particularly challenging working on campaigns?
The most challenging time was certainly the 2020 campaign, mostly because of all the COVID requirements we needed to work around. When we were working with the Biden-Harris campaign, all the pilots for the charters needed to have a COVID test every day, along with every passenger of each flight. Making sure they were cleared to fly was part of our responsibility, so it was just another added layer of logistics on top of a regular charter which already has tons of details involved. It was very challenging, and something I’ll never forget. I’m very proud of our company for being able to pull that off.
Is there any crossover between this type of charter and “normal” Part 135 charter?
Definitely. We have plenty of other clients outside of campaigns, however, that high level of logistic support that we offer campaigns is what you need for high-level executives, celebrities and the rest of our clientele. Musicians going on a roadshow is a good example where the crossover is very apparent as things never go perfectly according to schedule.
What made you decide to start your own business, especially given the competitive and crowded nature of the charter industry?
I sort of always had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to own my own company. I used to be a spinning instructor, so I looked into owning my own indoor cycling studio. That didn’t work out, so I landed on starting my own charter business. I’m a very big believer that there’s always room for one more. There’s always room for somebody else in an industry, so there’s always room for disruption. After working for other brokerages, I thought I could do things differently or better. So, these two things combined: wanting to own my own business and thinking I could do things differently. From there I knew I had to give this a try.
How would you describe the state of the charter market now and where do you see it going in the future?
I see aircraft availability stabilizing. As a broker, we were really working hard to get available aircraft and cruise through 2021. Aircraft tend to be more available now for our trips, so that’s just anecdotal evidence that this availability issue is stabilizing a bit, which I anticipate will be the case going into next year.
Bonus Question: Any plans to work on a 2024 campaign? Any advice for those who want to get into aircraft charter?
The short answer is yes, but I can’t really talk about current clients or who we are working with. My advice for someone starting out is to simply reach out to others who have been in the industry. It’s all about relationships. Even though we sometimes compete, we can also learn from one another. Foster good relationships with reputable brokers and operators.