Don Catalano: Business Growth Equals Flying Growth

Moving from a piston single, then a turboprop, into a twin-engine HondaJet today, Fabrizio Poli asks Don Catalano how business growth and Covid have transformed the company aircraft from a ‘nice-to-have’ tool into a ‘must-have’ tool...

Fabrizio Poli  |  11th April 2022
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Fabrizio Poli
Fabrizio Poli

Fabrizio Poli is Senior Consultant at Orville Aviation. He is also an Airline Transport Pilot. Mr. Poli...

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Don Catalano uses his HondaJet for charitable work as well as business

Don Catalano joined the US Army out of High School and eventually found himself serving in the Special Forces HALO scuba team. This experience really shaped him, helping him realize how a small team can be more powerful and effective than a large team.

After his experience in the military, Don began a career in Real Estate and took up flying as a hobby. Today he is President and CEO of his own Real Estate brokerage called iOptimize Realty (, with his flying playing a part in his professional success.

Don’s company is a Commercial Real Estate (CRE) specialist representing tenants, not landlords. By analyzing property metrics, the company’s dedicated tenant representatives regularly achieve rents 30% below market using iOptimize’s proven and proprietary systems. They also work with a global network of commercial real estate advisors to find the best deals.

In 2007, the iOptimize Realty team foresaw the economic tsunami and subsequent rollback of market rents. Don and his team showed their clients how much over-market their CRE portfolios had become, and offered an easy way to optimize them. Today, they are doing this again in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company’s unique take on the CRE market accommodates client needs in secondary and tertiary markets that most other firms don’t want to work within.

Airplane Ownership: Upsizing with the Business

It was twenty-five years ago that Don bought his first airplane, a Mooney piston single, and started using it for business. Flying his Mooney to visit clients, he soon realized how the airplane was becoming a valuable business tool.

Eventually, his work required trips further afield, and he upgraded to a Piper Meridian single-engine turboprop before purchasing the twin-engine Light Jet he flies today: A HondaJet Elite.

Dan’s business focusing on commercial Real Estate during the Covid lockdowns necessitated a change in the way he did business. With his small team working from home, iOptimize Reality began showing clients property via video-conferencing technology.

Virtual visits only worked to a certain extent, however, and Don upped his game by flying the HondaJet to pick up certain clients to fly them to see Real Estate in person.

“Mindsets have changed,” he told AvBuyer. “Work from home is going to be okay for some jobs. A hybrid work model is going to be okay. But where there might have been reluctance from prospective customers and clients to take the corporate jet in the past (i.e., ‘is it ok to take the corporate jet, or should we take the airlines?’...), that reluctance is gone).”

“Imagine the conversation between boss and employee,” he illustrates: “‘I really need you to go and look at that 50,000 sq. ft. office in Boca Raton, because we are moving out of New York’. “‘Sure, I’ll do that, boss, but my last flight was cancelled, and I don’t want to wear a mask for three hours – can I use this company that has its own private jet?’”

Don is seeing an increase in the usage of his jet to the point where, if the trend continues, his company will eventually acquire a second plane. He explains that iOptimize has always had the company aircraft built into its business strategy, as a tool, for twenty years. Now the company is ramping up its usage, the business is growing exponentially.

“The demand and the utility has changed from the plane being a ‘nice to have’ item, to becoming a necessity,” he shares.

Though Don doesn’t charge his clients for using the jet, nor increase his fees in any way, he’s clear that the deal does need to have enough substance in it to justify deploying the HondaJet. It costs Don’s company just over $3,000 per hour to operate the aircraft, so a trip may cost iOptimize $20,000, which Don considers an investment into the deal that he’s happy to cover.

Combining Business With Piloting

So how does Don combine being both the CEO and the pilot of the HondaJet? Clients are always impressed that Don is not only a smart business man but also flies the company jet.

Realizing that flying is a life and death activity, he says if you’re going to do the flying – especially carrying clients and employees – you need to be trained at a professional level to be safe. He goes over and above in this regard, visiting Flight Safety twice a year for recurrent training, and soon will be adding Upset and Recovery Prevention Training (URPT) as part of his annual training routine.

He had already flown 4,000hrs before attempting to obtain a Type Rating in the HondaJet, having spent eighteen years flying the Piper Meridian in IFR.

According to Don, Covid has caused a paradigm shift in the workplace, and companies have realized that working from home can be very cost-effective. Consequently, the need for large corporate offices in the center of London or New York are becoming less necessary.

Homeworking will only get you so far, though, before a face-to-face meeting becomes necessary. That’s when owning your own jet becomes key.

“Private jet usage is now becoming very acceptable, as it should be, it is a tool, a magic carpet,” Don says. “It allows point-to-point travel, which is something that is becoming more difficult now with [the airlines], where you often need to fly via Point B to get from A to C.

“The private jet takes you from A to C [direct, saving] time and hassle, and is a lot more comfortable.”

Charitable Flying

Don also flies his jet for charity. When thirteen-year-old Owen Sherman needed a lift to get to Shriners Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, to receive his two new prosthetic legs, Don helped out, volunteering to fly his HondaJet Elite.

He took off from Republic Airport, flew to Bangor, Maine to pick up the Shermans, and flew them to Springfield where Owen underwent surgery. Then he flew them back to Bangor before flying home to Long Island.

Don volunteers as part of the Patient Airlift Services (PALS) charity flight team, donating his time and cost of the flights. A veteran charity flyer, he’s piloted more than two dozen charity flights in the last few years.

All-in-all, some great perspectives from Don, from how to use a private jet as a business tool and also how to go about it, if you choose to also be the pilot.

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