Gregg Brunson-Pitts
Gregg Brunson-Pitts

Q&A: Gregg Brunson-Pitts

He went straight from college to a job in the White House. Now he owns and runs a charter brokerage whose clientele includes high-profile politicians.

Gregg Brunson-Pitts wasn’t even old enough to order a cocktail when he received security clearance to work at the White House in 2002. As an intern for President George W. Bush’s scheduling office, he got a crash course in attention to detail. After graduating from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, he was named director of the White House Travel Office, where he spent seven years sharpening his skills and knowledge as he coordinated flights, hotel bookings, and bus rides for the hundreds of people who circle POTUS at any given time, including Secret Service members and the press corps. He faced constant logistical nightmares, challenging personalities, and different ways of doing things in countries all over the world. 

Those experiences made the now 40-year-old Brunson-Pitts well-positioned to open Advanced Aviation Team, the charter brokerage he started in 2015. The company recently handled flight logistics for the Biden campaign and counts several other high-profile political figures as clients. 

Brunson-Pitts—whose off-hours activities include fathering two small children and grueling daily Crossfit workouts—is determined to keep his firm small enough to allow for a personal connection with all his clients. The company has just six employees, and Brunson-Pitts is intimately involved in every aspect of

its operation. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of travel detail or complication that would phase him, and he prides himself on transparency, honesty, and accessibility.

How did you land a position in the White House right out of college?
I started as an intern in the scheduling office, and that’s how I got involved with the Bush circle. I did what’s called advance work—traveled the country and the world setting up public events and coordinating charters, hotel rooms, buses, and the whole roadshow that goes with traveling with the President. I did that on President Bush’s campaign in 2004, and then he won re-election and I got offered a job in the White House as director of the travel office. 

At the time, I knew very little about aviation, but I of course accepted the job and went on to learn a lot about planes and charters. I coordinated the charter aircraft that fly in tandem with Air Force One, carrying the press corps, Secret Service, and members of the White House staff. We worked closely with one broker who would source aircraft on our behalf, and that’s how I cut my teeth and learned to love the industry.

Brunson-Pitts inside the Oval Office with his brother, Paul Pitts.
Brunson-Pitts inside the Oval Office with his brother, Paul Pitts.

What happened to your role when Bush’s term ended?
When President Obama came in office, his team asked me to stay for a couple of months and help them transition because there are so many details getting buses and planes and hotel rooms and [getting a feel for how] Andrews Air Force Base works. All the things that encompass that job are not really political, just very logistical. I stayed and worked for President Obama and his team for a little while.

Then what?
I really didn’t know what to do next. I had worked for President Bush for seven and a half years and didn’t have a plan. I decided to move into an industry I already knew, and I figured I had some skills and contacts to leverage. I went to work for a broker. It was a large firm and wasn’t a super great fit for me—I’m much more comfortable with smaller businesses. I left to work for a company out of Kansas City called Air Charter Team, which isn’t around anymore. But it was a much better fit for me because it was a family-friendly boutique business.

Was your experience in the White House anything like working in a small business?
It was a family. The camaraderie is one thing I miss so much about being at the White House. The friendships and relationships that I made over those years are really tight, and I keep in touch with all the friends I made there. You’re in the trenches together. There are a lot of people but you’re all swimming in the same direction.

How did you decide to start your own business?
I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and kind of knew in the back of my mind that maybe I would start my own business one day. I had a side gig in the fitness industry as a spinning instructor, so I kind of had it boiled down to I would start my own spinning studio or I would start a charter company, and [I decided to create] Advanced Aviation Team. I started with one client on my kitchen counter with my laptop. It really was just my black book and referrals, people just trusting me to do what I said I was going to do—follow through and do a good job. 

Are your clients all politicians?
Because of my background, it has been a natural fit for us to work with political campaigns, politicians, former heads of state, and government agencies. People automatically trust me because I was the director of the White House travel office. But we have had good organic growth over the last seven years outside of the political sphere and we’ve taken on sports figures, sports teams, and some wealthy families.

Can you talk about your recent experience coordinating the Biden campaign?
We had been doing charters on small planes for then–Vice President Biden as he was traveling the country giving speeches before he announced his candidacy. When he announced his campaign, we were already their trusted provider. We worked with them all the way up to November 3. From about mid-September through Election Day, Biden was on one dedicated 737 aircraft that was decaled and wrapped with his campaign logo, and we managed that whole process. And then there was Dr. Jill Biden and then-Senator Kamala Harris, and Kamala Harris’s husband. We had a lot of planes moving on behalf of the campaign for those three months.

Were there any particularly stressful moments?
Believe it or not, not one plane broke down. A few times, catering didn’t show up—things like that. The crews had to be tested for COVID every day on every plane, so that whole process was just another layer on top of what we were doing already.

Gregg Brunson-Pitts
Gregg Brunson-Pitts

How do you source aircraft?
We go out to the market of available aircraft and work with a pool of trusted operators. We base it on safety ratings, of course, and pilot records and past performance. We do a lot of due diligence, and we talk to other brokers and our industry contacts.

Do you take clients on a one-off basis, or are most of them flying with you regularly?
It’s a mix of both. Where we really excel is a dedicated charter situation where we can find and broker an aircraft that’s available over a long period, negotiate the terms of the contract, and then see our clients all the way through from the beginning to the end. We become the extension of somebody’s team because that's really what our value add-on is. But we do a lot of one-offs, also. 

Do you help your clients sort out all the details, like catering and ground transportation?
Yes. One of my founding principles is that we are customer-service logistics support from soup to nuts, beginning to the end. We don’t just link our customers up with an aircraft and a crew. We handle timing, catering, flight tracking, everything.

Do you charge extra for any of that?
No. We quote a fully inclusive price. My goal is to never send a post-trip invoice to the customer. The quote includes fuel, FBO fees, internet, and any other fees. Sometimes that makes our price look a little higher than somebody else’s, but you will not be invoiced after your trip. I don’t think it sits well with people to think that they are being nickeled and dimed. I’m always happy, especially if somebody’s new to charter, to walk through [all the fees] with them. It can be confusing.

What advice would you give to first-time charter customers?
Definitely ask about safety ratings. How many hours has the crew flown on this type of aircraft? How much luggage are you bringing? If you are traveling with a family, will you be bringing strollers or pack-and-plays or things like that? If the type of aircraft that you are chartering does not match your luggage needs, that is a big problem. Do you expect to get an invoice post-trip? Does the quote include taxes? The Federal Excise Tax is 7.5 percent. Some brokers don’t include this in their quotes. 

Make sure that you are very clear about your expected departure time. If there is a mechanical situation and your plane is unable to fly, there might be costs associated with getting a replacement plane flown in. I would encourage somebody who is new to charter to have a discussion about how that situation will work. If you are a prolific charter customer, it might be that those costs are covered for you, but if you’re brand new, they probably won’t be. 

My biggest piece of advice is if somebody feels that their charter provider is not being fully transparent, it’s probably not a good thing. Get someone else.

Do you get a lot of questions about price?
We do, but I think the vast majority of our clients are not super bargain shoppers. I’m always happy to take a second look at prices and competitive quotes to see if we can do a little better. But most of our clients are not out there getting six quotes and expecting the price to drop with each one. That is not a good use of their time. I recommend trying out two or three brokers to see who is the best fit for you. Price is important but it might not be the most important thing. There are boutique-style brokers and there are some really big brokers. We’re definitely boutique-style. I am the owner of the company, and you can text me and I will respond. 

What do you envision for the future of your company?
I think we will probably grow a little—but I don’t want to grow so big as to not be accessible. I like attracting clients who value us as a boutique broker, and I enjoy being very accessible to our customers. That’s my goal. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

FAST FACTS

Name: Gregg Brunson-Pitts

Born: 1981 (age 40)

Positions: Founder and CEO, Advanced Aviation Team

Previous positions: Director, White House travel office

Education: B.A., Political Science, Bowling Green [Ohio] State University

Personal:  Married to Brooks Brunson-Pitts since 2013, 2 children

Hobbies: CrossFit, traveling, nutrition

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