Meet the Expert: Don Gantt, Chief Operating Officer for Million Air Dallas

news | Aug 19, 2019


Don Gantt has been with Million Air Dallas for thirty-five of the thirty-nine years that we have been in business (as he likes to say: “I got here as fast as I could.”) Over these decades he has personally managed each aircraft acquisition and sale for our valued clients (our “Friends and Family”) with a back-story that includes both FAA Pilot and Mechanic’s ratings, as well as degreed Investment Analysis experience in the Chicago financial markets.  

Q:  Don, what first attracted you to aviation?

A:         Well, it certainly wasn’t unusual for a kid from my generation to have an affinity for ‘things with wings’, but what charted my own course was our home being located directly beneath the confluence of two runway final-approach paths…one southbound to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and the other northward to the military’s Naval Air Station-Glenview.

Childhood summers were spent laying on my back in the grass, watching A4-Skyhawk fighters come roaring down final with their gear and flaps hanging out, bristling with guns and rockets…while a thousand feet above, and heading in the opposite direction, you’d see the new Boeing Model-747…of such immense and unprecedented scale that it appeared to be suspended motionless against the sky.  Boeing had not only designed an amazing aircraft, but seemingly had developed a new form of levitation as well.

And to close the deal, once a year the suburban tranquility would be shattered by the Blue Angels blasting overhead in formation just above the treetops, practicing for their annual Air-Show (before sonic-booms were outlawed.)  The rest was history, and it was aviation “Church” for me.

Q:  Where did your path take you from there?

A:         Well, school seemed like a solid idea, and fortunately my University of choice (Illinois) had both a College of Business, as well as an Aviation School.  Thus, by doubling-up through dual-enrollment, I was able to graduate with a somewhat counter-intuitive combo of a degree in Investment Analysis, as well as FAA Pilot’s and Mechanic’s ratings.  It was a little embarrassing to show-up for class in “Stock Market Theory” smelling of Avgas, but it really wasn’t much worse than the dense clouds of “Brut” the other guys were sporting at the time (I honestly think that it was the same formula)…and in any case, juggling “Margin Calls” with “Departure Stalls” was all just part of the fun.

Q:  What brought you to the Aircraft Acquisitions field at Million Air Dallas?  

A:        I joined Million Air Dallas in 1988 just a few years after its opening, having never seen anything like it before (nor had anyone else.)  At a time when an expanding population of jet owners were still launching on trips by just pushing the aircraft out in front of their dark, corrugated-metal storage hangars, Million Air Dallas understood that there had to be a better way…so they built it. They knew that service and opulence would be among the expectations of people whom were going to access private aviation, and Million Air Dallas was the first to meet (and exceed) those expectations. In the nearly 40 years since then, this wildly successful formula has been oft-copied, but never duplicated. 

Q:  When it comes to Aircraft Acquisitions, what sets Million Air Dallas apart? What makes you unique?

A:        The obvious first thing would have to be our private jet “Showroom” (and not a “sales” showroom…but a “jet-experience” showroom.)  While a typical Aircraft Broker out there will park you in a stuffy, off-airport conference room and plow through Power-Point slides, here at Million Air Dallas we provide a uniquely interactive, walk-and-talk, touch and feel jet experience.  On any given day at our exclusive Owner’s Club we have available for you jets of all sizes, makes and models, with which you can get up close and personal. While everyone else is busy working on their “Virtual Reality” presentations…we just skip the “Virtual” part. Simply put: “We have the planes.”

A second major difference is that the typical Aircraft Broker’s business model mirrors that of the Stock Broker or Real Estate Broker: Maximize the number of transactions, maximize the commission on each transaction, and minimize the time required to close the transaction.  Aircraft brokerage houses have just one revenue stream (selling airplanes) and thus one goal:  Get the client into a plane as quickly as possible, and as profitably as possible.

The Million Air Dallas business model is instead predicated upon providing a broad spectrum of aviation services to the client, all united upon the singular principle of enhancing the customer’s desire to return. We sell fuel (our primary business), we charter aircraft, we maintain aircraft, we manage aircraft…and, if requested, we provide the most dedicated, experienced and personal acquisition consulting in the industry today.  It’s an available professional service here…not a revenue lifeline.

And a third distinct difference that sets our team apart from independent brokers is the fact that our clients all keep their jets right here with us after the purchase. This means that we simply have no choice but to get the aircraft acquisition exactly right…because I find the owners standing in my lobby every morning!

Q: What does the Acquisition experience look like?  How do I get started?

A:        This is the fun part!  Adjacent to our Showroom is our dedicated lounge, with a 270-degree panorama of the jets arriving and departing on our private ramp…taxiing right up almost into your lap.  We can begin with casual conversation right there around the coffee table…and instead of facing three guys in matching Armani suits and power ties glaring across a conference table at you, there’s just me…jeans and jacket…snacks and drinks. And if this is a family decision, all are welcome to join in…whether it be daytime or evening, weekday or weekend.

We will discuss where you’ve been, where you are going, who needs to go, and how best to get you there.  And then we can go take a look at the planes that can make it happen; Citations and Challengers, Lears and Gulfstreams…you name it, we have them. And just to be clear, these planes are not “For Sale”…this entire experience is simply a unique opportunity for you to get your hands-on, and your mind around the idea of what we are really talking about with private jet ownership.

Q:  Is there a cost for these “Meetings” and “Conversations?”

A:        Never has been…never will be. Although the Aircraft Brokerage industry has now adopted the approach of charging the client a retainer-fee for the multiple consultations (beyond introductory) that are part of the decision of buying a jet, we choose a different (old school) path here at Million Air Dallas. We will happily meet with you two times or twenty, 24/7/365 until we have arrived at an aviation travel solution that suits you. And unless you ultimately do end up with the actual ownership of an airplane, there will be no cost to you for any of this.  Frankly, we simply enjoy these exchanges too much to “Charge” anyone for them.  

Q:  What if I’m not sure whether owning a jet is right for me?

A:        Guaranteed: I have personally talked far more people “Out” of buying a corporate jet than into one.  For many (okay, most) people, owning a jet is simply not the ideal solution to their transportation needs…but as a multi-faceted aviation provider, we are experienced at analyzing just exactly what that perfect personalized solution may look like for you.  We consider destinations, frequency, typical passenger loads…every cost/benefit factor that goes into making a comprehensive aviation analysis and decision.

Q: What are some of the advantages of owning or chartering a jet?

 A:        Instead of expounding upon the obvious points of the speed and convenience that private aviation delivers, let me just paint a scenario that is very common here: An emerging business that has multiple destinations needing to be serviced;

Picture this: You drive to the Million Air Dallas private terminal at 7:30am, pass through the security gate without leaving your car, and pull right up to the to the open door of the plane. There you find your flight crew waiting to grab your bag, the Line Service Tech to valet your car, and already on board is your coffee and light breakfast. Within minutes you are airborne to your first destination (perhaps along with 4 or 5 colleagues.)

You arrive at the stop (Denver? Chicago? A remote airport much closer to your destination?) walk off the plane, and jump into the waiting car, whisking you off to the meeting. A couple hours later you return to the plane’s doorway, where the crew is again waiting.  You climb on board, and within 15 minutes are heading to (Atlanta? Charlotte?) wherein on the way you and your team review the last meeting, preview the next one, and partake of the lunch which the crew has placed on board.

Following the second meeting you return to the plane, mount-up, and head back to Dallas…using this leg as valuable face-time with the team, grabbing a snack, or perhaps even partaking of a cocktail to unwind. Arriving back at Million Air Dallas, your car is waiting at the aircraft…washed, fueled, and pre-cooled by Line-Service.  You (and your team) are back home by 6:00pm for dinner with the family.  Six people, two remote cities, two meetings, one day.  Just try THAT on the airlines.

And here’s another thing:  There’s over Twenty-Thousand private turbine aircraft operating in the U.S. today.  Now, certainly a percentage of these are owned by notable “People of means” whom own planes simply because they can…and that’s great.  But the vast majority of these twenty-thousand owners are just people using these vessels as efficient tools to improve their business and personal lives. They are often individuals or companies that you have never even heard of (see the book: “The Millionaire Next Door.”)  Isn’t it worth at least exploring what it is that these people have discovered?

 Q:  No offense Don, but what are your qualifications?

A:        Non taken…Look, intelligence can come in handy, but experience is what counts. When Captain Charles “Sully” Sullenberger was asked how he managed to pull-off his landing on the Hudson, he thoughtfully responded: “For 42 years I’ve been making small deposits into this bank account of experience, so that one day I could make this one very big withdrawal.”

Well, I’m certainly no Sully, but for over three decades I’ve been traversing every hemisphere of the globe in the quest for that perfect aircraft for my client. I’ve trekked my way through Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur looking for that ideal jet… I’ve circled Mont Blanc over the Alps, and wrestled with Airport Security from Berlin to Paris to London in getting up close and personal with the planes.  I’ve bargained for jet fuel in Greenland, done quick-turns in Iceland, and have frozen my toes in every Province of Canada from western Vancouver to east Montreal. Head south from here, and from Ecuador to Brazil, and across every State of Mexico, we’ve left no stone unturned in our searches.

Each one of these aircraft transactions over the decades has indeed been a “Small deposit” in my bank account of experience, the balance of which I am more than happy to withdraw, and freely share with anyone upon their visit here to Million Air Dallas. 

And although our many clients encompass corporations large and small, and individuals famous and anonymous…our greatest satisfaction comes from shepherding the first-time aircraft buyer successfully through this complex world of jet acquisition and ownership.  This is our calling, and we take it very seriously (and I take it very personally.)

It’s what we do, and we do it better than anyone in the world.

I sincerely invite you to come in and explore the opportunities that jet ownership can provide for you. Just call, text or email…the door is always open!

Very Best, Don

Don Gantt
Chief Operating Officer
Million Air Dallas

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