“We’re back!” declared EBAA secretary-general Athar Husain Khan in the rousing EBACE 2022 keynote opening session on Monday, referencing the show's three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The session featured two inspiring aviators: Zara Rutherford, aged 19, the youngest woman to complete a solo circumnavigation of the Earth; and Martina Navratilova, who pursued a pilot’s license with the same passion and determination that propelled her to win a total of 59 Grand Slam tennis titles.
Khan, in welcoming remarks, highlighted business aviation’s advances made since the last Geneva gathering in 2019, citing new technologies, the sector’s enhanced stature, a new generation entering its increasingly diverse and inclusive workforce, and a growing commitment to sustainability. He also acknowledged “the horrific war in Ukraine,” while emphasizing that “business aviation is an industry of peace, an industry of bridging people, religions, and cultures around the world, with no barriers whatsoever.”
Underscoring the rebound seen at all levels of the industry, André Schneider, CEO of Geneva Airport, explained that the facility, virtually empty for three months when the pandemic began, is now hosting more business aviation flights than it was pre-Covid.
World-rounder Rutherford, recounting her journey, said, “I always knew I was going to be a pilot,” noting both her parents were pilots. “But in the back of my mind, I also always wanted to go on this huge adventure.”
However, she gave up the idea of flying around the world as “too expensive, too dangerous,” and “too complicated.” Then, “I realized with that attitude, it definitely won't happen. So I decided, I'm going to try my best and give it a hundred percent.”
That spirit overcame her obstacles, and in August Rutherford took off from Belgium, her home country, in a Shark, her VFR-only single-engine microlight, on a five-month journey. En route, she overcame challenges in the air and on the ground, while using social media to keep supporters up to date on her adventure.
Her takeaways from the grand journey: “The world is small,” she learned, and more importantly, “If there’s any dream, anything you want to do, take that first step and say, ‘I want to do this.’”
Navratilova, joined by NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen for a Q & A, touched on her decision to defect from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) during the Cold War, her record-setting career, coming out, surviving breast cancer, and becoming a pilot.
“I realized it was a lot easier getting around by a plane than driving,” Navratilova said. She earned her license in Aspen, Colorado, a high-altitude, mountainous location that presented challenges in its own right. She vividly recalled the thought of flying solo for the first time when her instructor got out of the airplane: “’I’m so scared, I want to make a U-turn so badly.’ And then I’m like, ‘Okay, center court, match point, let’s go!’”
Asked the secret of staying dominant in tennis so long, as she did during 30 years on the professional tennis circuit, Navratilova said, “You have to evolve,” citing factors that echo the world of aviation: “The equipment changes so much, from wood to metal,” requiring new approaches and techniques, she said. And to make the necessary changes, “I had to completely rewire my brain.”
But, she added, “In tennis, if you double fault, it’s no big deal, you have the next point; flying, you mess up, it’s a problem.”