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From law student to business owner, DiLullo takes flight

From law student to business owner, DiLullo takes flight

Two years ago, 22-year-old Kayla DiLullo got the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to operate her own business in the aviation industry.

DiLullo grew up in aviation. Her family owns and operates Threshold Aviation Group, which buys, maintains and restores private airplanes at its headquarters at Chino Airport. When her father, Mark DiLullo – Threshold’s chief executive officer – was offered the chance to be the west coast dealer for an Italian plane manufacturer, he shared the opportunity with his daughter and the two formed Cielo Blu.

“This opportunity kind of fell into my lap at the perfect time,” Kayla DiLullo said.

Kayla DiLullo spoke with IE Business Daily about running Cielo Blu, what it was like getting the company started and where she hopes the business will go from here.

IEBD: Can you talk about how Cielo Blu got started, and where the idea for the company came from?
DiLullo: It wasn’t an idea as much as it was an opportunity. I graduated from the University of San Diego law school with a business law degree in 2022. My plan was to own a business, not to be a lawyer. About the time I graduated, Tecnam was looking for a west coast dealer. They already had a Midwest dealer, who recommended my dad.

IEBD: What happened next?
DiLullo: Tecnam met with my dad twice and offered him the position. He asked me if it was something I wanted to do, and I said yes.

IEBD: That sounds like especially good timing, because you had just gotten your degree and you knew you wanted to run your own business.
DiLullo: Yes, but I didn’t know what kind of business I wanted to run. I just knew I wanted to be a business owner like my parents, so the Tecnam opportunity kind of fell into my lap at the perfect time. We started the business the day after I graduated from law school.

IEBD: You’re coming up on your second anniversary. How many planes have you sold since you started?
DiLullo: We’ve sold about 16 Tecnams and five or six other private jets.

IEBD: How much are you generating in annual sales? 
DiLullo: Approximately $11 million.

IEBD: Are you still only a dealer for Tecnam or do you sell other planes?
DiLullo:  We are Tecnam’s exclusive dealer in California and Arizona. We buy the airplanes and sell them, but we also do other things, like brokering airplanes. If someone wants to buy or sell their jet, or any kind of airplane, we can help them do that. I’ve helped a few of my dad’s friends and clients sell their airplanes.

IEBD: What kind of planes do you look for?
DiLullo:  We buy airplanes that seem like a good opportunity for us, usually ones that have an expensive inspection due and the owner doesn’t want to incur that expense. We will also buy a damaged plane, or one that needs new paint or interior. Threshold is fully equipped to complete that kind of work. We just finished a makeover of a Cessna Citation jet. We also just bought a few smaller Cessnas from overseas, and we’re going to restore and resell those.

IEBD: Where do you usually find planes that fit your criteria? Are they more available overseas or in the states?
DiLullo: A lot of airplanes in Europe fit our model. We have some connections in Europe that will send us some pictures and say “Hey, we spotted this airplane in Switzerland and we think it would be a good deal for you.”

IEBD:  Has it been difficult to sell planes in this market?
DiLullo: A lot of planes are going up in value, but others are dropping in value. Everything is expensive right now, but people are buying. I thought that once 2024 came around, we were going to see a decline in sales, but the opposite happened. I’ve sold more than one airplane a month since December.

IEBD: How hard was it to get the business started?
DiLullo: I had a lot of support from people who have started businesses. It was a new business, but it was under a well-known parent company that has a lot of connections, resources and clients. People know my family, and that has helped. So, I think I definitely had an advantage, and I’m grateful for it.  

IEBD: Who thought of the name Cielo Blu?
DiLullo: We’re Italian, and we’re very proud of our Italian roots, and Tecnam is an Italian-based aircraft manufacturer. We wanted to have an Italian name and for it to be aviation-related. Cielo Blu means blue sky in Italian.    

IEBD: Any expansion plans? 
DiLullo: I’m sure the business will grow, that we’ll hire more people and get a bigger team. We recently hired Nathan Weisman, a graduate of Embry Riddle, which is a prestigious flight school in Daytona Beach. We have Nathan visiting flight schools and forming relationships with them because Tecnam airplanes are mainly designed for flight training.

IEBD: Any specific challenge that you’ve had to overcome?
DiLullo: The biggest challenge was selling new airplanes for the first time. My father has a lot of experience helping people sell airplanes, but we’ve never sold brand new airplanes before, or worked with a manufacturer. Having to figure out the little things that can happen when you’re trying to close a deal, has been a challenge that has been quickly navigated. Every day as a business owner is a learning experience bringing new challenges to overcome.

IEBD: Where do you see yourself in three to five years?
DiLullo: I hope to still be in Chino and still be selling Tecnams. Maybe we’ll have a couple of other aircraft dealerships, for different manufacturers. I hope I’m still selling private jets on the side and getting more experience on the broker side of aircraft sales. That helps you build long-term connections. I really want to get more into the big jets. I’m learning how to fly. I just did my first solo flight last week. Two days later, my team gave me instruction and let me fly the Citation Jet. I hope I’m flying jets in three to five years too!

IEBD: Any advice for people that want to start a business, or who are considering getting into aviation?
DiLullo: They should meet people in the industry, make connections, network, ask them for their experiences and advice and rely on the knowledge of the people who’ve been in the business for a long time. Aviation is a very interesting industry, and it’s not like any other industry. If you really want to get into aviation, then do it full speed ahead. Don’t just dream about it!

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