People, Partnerships, Progress

President’s Message

ABJ caught up with new NATA President and CEO Curt Castagna to discuss his vision for the Association.

You have been a long-time proponent of NATA. What inspired you most to serve as its 11th President and CEO?

I have been an NATA volunteer leader for more than six years and have seen first-hand the power of the Association at work in providing the guidance, tools, and advocacy necessary for the strength, safety, and security of all aviation businesses, as well as the men and women behind them. The talented and skilled NATA staff leans in on the experience and knowledge of the broad Association constituents and our affiliated industry partners to make a difference. We have a mantra that together, we are safer and smarter, as well as more successful and secure. I like to say that our success as a team is due to all of us working for the collective name on the front of our jerseys instead of the individual names on the back. NATA embodies this spirit. I am honored to have served this organization over the years, and now, to have the opportunity to help guide its future.

Will your leadership style change as head of NATA?

Not at all. I believe in putting a skilled, dedicated team in place and letting them rise to their strengths while I serve as a guide, reference, mentor, and source of support along the way. That’s how both Aeroplex Group Partners and NATA will not only continue to succeed, but also exceed expectations. NATA’s strength emanates from member leadership, as well as a skilled team with a national and DC presence. The Association’s staff is located throughout the country, allowing them to see, service, and survey our membership organically. This boots-on-ground approach will continue to inform our strategy and efforts. The past few years taught us that effective, collaborative work can be accomplished from anywhere and the breadth of service through one-on-one engagement is invaluable.

I also couldn’t be more pleased with the leadership of Keith DeBerry as COO and Jason Miller as CFO, along with the depth and range of experience of the entire NATA team—they have proven their dedication and versatility to our members time and time again. I look forward to being a greater part of the staff’s professional growth as well as seeing the team expand to address new industry opportunities. 

What is something most people may not know about you?

I am most proud of my time and efforts as an aviation educator and mentor. I am thrilled to share my enthusiasm for flight through the Young Eagles Program, providing new industry prospects their first experience in a GA aircraft. If one flight, one airport visit, one interaction with an interested aviation entrant leaves a lasting mark, it is time well spent. We should all be so lucky as to make a career out of doing what we love. And, if we are that fortunate, why not share it with others?

As of late, “living the dream” has taken on a sarcastic connotation. Let’s take it back. Our members are providing innovative internship and career development opportunities, scholarship contributions, and other philanthropic support of organizations such as NATA, the RedTail Flight Academy, Women in Aviation, and others—opening the aviation business industry as a viable career-long path, not just a steppingstone to other aviation segments. I am excited about the prospect of increased engagement in this area through NATA and its National Air Transportation Foundation, and other industry initiatives.

What do you see as priorities for NATA?

Over the past few years, private aviation became seen for the immense value it provides—recognized as a necessity instead of a luxury. However, there are still those who want to sensationalize it merely as transportation for the privileged while overstating its contributions to global carbon emissions, meaning we cannot pull back on the throttle on public perception efforts. We must also remain leaders in innovation, safety, security, and sustainability. AAM infrastructure, environmental considerations, the expansion of aviation fuels, workforce recruitment and development, SMS program implementation, security advancements, Safety 1st training and education enhancements: all are areas of growth where you will see NATA become even more involved. Our industry is also about making connections, facilitating critical medical and rescue missions, enabling commerce, and providing valuable services to the aviation community. More importantly, it’s about the people—those who provide the vital services on the field and in the office, those who provide support and training for these companies, and those who advocate for aviation businesses—everyone is critical to the aviation ecosystem. We need to continue to highlight the faces of these stakeholders and devotees, hear their ideas and concerns, and amplify their voices and stories.

Partnerships are important to you. How do you see collaboration as a catalyst for industry improvement?

I stand behind the power of partnerships—with the most important partners being our members and our staff. We also see other associations and stakeholder groups not as competition, but as partners. NATA has experienced great success through industry collaborations that enhance business aviation’s sustainability, safety, security, engagement, and other areas of impact. Going forward, I would like to see us collaborate even more with industry stakeholders like AAAE, HAI, NBAA, and others. We each bring a unique perspective and new connections to move the needle forward on a range of aviation challenges and opportunities. We also all bring our passion for advancing the industry and providing invaluable service to our members. In 2023, we will continue to work with industry and governmental stakeholders on building a pipeline of skilled talent across all aviation job responsibilities, securing an unleaded future for piston aircraft, increasing SAF proliferation and acceptance, preventing illegal charter operations, raising awareness of human trafficking, and advancing AAM through infrastructure planning, implementation, and support. We’ll continue to make connections with associations and groups that enable joint events and conferences, maximizing member time spent away from the office and leveraging expanded networking opportunities. 

Closing thoughts as we look toward the future?

I want to take a minute to recognize Tim’s dedication to NATA over the past eight years. He set a solid foundation for success, furthered the cause of aviation safety, and raised awareness of the critical role that aviation businesses play in advancing society. I would also like to thank our current Board Chair Clive Lowe for his guidance and steady presence through NATA’s leadership transition. Clive, Marty Hiller, Jeff Ross, Gary Dempsey, Andy Priester, Todd Duncan, Michael Scheeringa, Jim Sweeney, Greg Schmidt, and all past Members of the Board who served under them, have been critical to my development as a leader, as well as the advancement of the Association, its members, and the industry. I look forward to their continued input and participation as members of NATA’s Chairman’s Circle in helping us set our future course.

As aviation evolves, so must our industry, our Association, and each of us individually. NATA will assist in this growth by continuing to listen to our members, providing new leadership education opportunities, advancing our safety programs to anticipate member needs, expanding our staff to address new areas of focus, and fostering important governmental and industry partnerships. NATA’s team is devoted, energized, and at the ready. It has been my pleasure to have witnessed this team in action over the past three years as I served as NATA Board Chair for two years and Past Chair for one. Even in the most challenging of times and environments, they never stopped—working long hours to keep our members and industry at-large informed, functioning as a cohesive team, and moving us all forward on many fronts. Our industry took notice, and we saw a growth in membership with more rejoins of past members than we have seen in many years—evidence of what can be accomplished with a positive attitude and organizational culture.

Curt Castagna, President and CEO, NATA

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Welcome to the Aviation Business Journal, the official publication of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

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