April 19, 2024

As the host sponsor of this year’s Alpha Eta Rho (ΑΗΡ) national conference, NBAA had the unique opportunity to introduce students from around the country to business aviation and the numerous opportunities it presents to them for future careers.

ΑΗΡ, which is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year and is the oldest aviation organization on college campuses, annually brings together students from across the U.S. for education and networking opportunities, and this year marked its first time partnering with NBAA. The conference also branded itself with CLIMBING. FAST. – the industry’s campaign to highlight the many societal benefits of business aviation, including its push to be a net-zero carbon emissions industry by 2050.

“We are thrilled to be a part of your Washington, DC-area conference,” Jo Damato, NBAA senior vice president, education, training and workforce development, told the students during a welcome session. “We hope we’re going to open your eyes up to business aviation if you haven’t already considered it. We are an industry of opportunity.”

NBAA Board of Directors member Kali Hague, a partner with JetLaw, Inc., also welcomed the students to their conference and told ΑΗΡ members it is important to “design a career that you love.”

Hague, who also is a pilot, talked about how she was able to combine her love of aviation, airports and law to forge an interesting and exciting path. “Business aviation has given me the most amazing opportunity,” she said. “Business aviation helped my career climb fast and it can help your career too.”

NBAA's Cameron Smith (Right) talks to participants at the Alpha Eta Rho (ΑΗΡ) national conferenceNBAA’s Cameron Smith (Right)

Why Not Business Aviation?

During an education breakout session, Damato, along with Alex Gertsen, NBAA director airports and ground infrastructure; Stewart D’Leon, NBAA director, environmental and technical operations and Cameron Smith, NBAA aviation operations specialist, all talked about how they ended up working in business aviation and the careers paths the industry offers.

Though most of the panelists didn’t go to college thinking about a career in business aviation, all said they couldn’t be happier with their career paths.

“The path in your career is going to look all kinds of wonky,” advised D’Leon, a U.S. Air Force veteran who worked at Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. before coming to NBAA. “I would never have believed I’d be here 10 years ago. Be open to whatever you have in front of you.”

The most important thing you can do, he told conference attendees, is meet people and build a network. “Ask questions. Don’t be afraid,” D’Leon said. “No matter where you end up in one year, five years, 20 years – keep pushing forward.”

Gertsen, who has had a love of aviation since he was a child, also didn’t have a linear path to the industry. A former White House travel office employee, he later used his computer skills at Lockheed Martin, which led to another work at an aviation-related association and then to NBAA.

“Our industry is so vast and so amazing,” he said.

Smith, who more recently came to NBAA and business aviation after graduating in December 2022 from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, said he originally took a job with an airline out of college, but was excited to move over to business aviation a few months later. Much of his time at NBAA is spent working on sustainability and environmental impact issues, he said, though it wasn’t a path he originally saw for himself in school.

Damato noted there are 1.2 million people in the U.S. working in business aviation, in a wide range of jobs. “This is an industry of opportunity,” she said. “Find your people who want to help you.”

Participants at the Alpha Eta Rho (ΑΗΡ) national conference take photos