Greg Principato became the 32nd president and chief executive of the National Aeronautic Association on 20 October 2016. The NAA is a non-profit organisation and a founding member of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Founded in 1905, it is the oldest national aviation club in the USA.

How did your career in aviation begin?

My aviation career has been entirely on the policy/promotion front. I worked for two United States senators and always had aviation in my portfolio of issues. When I worked for then-Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles in the late 1980s aviation became a much bigger issue for me as we reformed the way airports are funded and worked on the creation of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Baliles to chair a presidential commission looking into the financial troubles facing aviation. He brought me along as executive director and thus began my full-time immersion in aviation.

What is your role as president of the NAA?

NAA is the oldest aviation organisation in the United States, formed in 1905 because people did not fully appreciate the magnitude of this new invention. Some 111 years later, I argue we still need to educate people on the importance of aviation, as well as celebrate aviation and its impact. That’s what we are here for! For example, we recently awarded the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy to Colleen Barrett, a truly legendary figure and President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. The Wright Trophy was founded after the passing of Orville Wright in 1948 and is administered through a trust established by the Wrights. As you can imagine, we must have a very rigorous process to ensure the award meets very high standards. Other awards, such as the Collier Trophy, given for the greatest achievement in aerospace and aeronautics the previous year, require the same care. This is a responsibility I take seriously and personally.

What do you enjoy about your job?

That I am constantly around people who are passionate about aviation and want to spread that passion to others. This includes sectors of aviation with which I had very little previous exposure. Modellers are one example. I also enjoy connecting with air sports such as parachuting and hang gliding. It’s astounding to learn about the unique programmes aircraft manufacturers and other aviation innovators such as Blue Origin and SpaceX are working on. In my role as head of NAA, I have the chance to be more exposed to all of these sectors.

What’s your biggest challenge?

We are a small organisation and made it through some difficult fiscal times in the past. That is an ongoing challenge. Because we do not take positions on legislative or regulatory issues, it is sometimes difficult to explain the value proposition to people. In my previous work, I could go to an airport director and tell him or her that I could help deal with FAA regulatory issues if they joined. That’s easy to explain. We don’t do any of that, so we have to appeal to peoples’ passion, or their interest in our awards and records.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

The best job I ever had was working for the Governor of Virginia. He was committed to some important goals, and we achieved them. The best thing is that those achievements had lasting impacts on people, and that includes a commitment to transportation and aviation.

What do the next 12 months hold for NAA?

My predecessor did a great job of turning this organisation around during a time of fiscal peril. I want to solidify those gains, maintain the intensity of our current focus while further broadening our outreach to other aviation sectors including general aviation, airports, airlines, and others. We administer some of the greatest awards in aviation, and there are many people in those other aviation sectors who should be recognised. I want us to be able to do that.

Source: Flight International