21 Jul 2023

117th FAI General Conference 2023: Five questions to NAA President Greg Principato

Greg Principato serves as the President and CEO of the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), which is the FAI Member in the United States. NAA will host the 117th FAI General Conference in Dayton, Ohio, scheduled to take place on 26 and 27 October 2023. We asked him five key questions:

Why is it important for representatives and officials to attend this General Conference?

It is important for people to attend this General Conference for two reasons. Firstly, it has been too long since we met in person and it is vital that we gather and discuss the future of the FAI. So much has changed, and to remain relevant, the FAI delegates must identify those issues, such as aviation sustainability in all forms, and build consensus on how to publicly address them. We must always remember that, for many aviation professionals and enthusiasts, air sports are their introduction to aviation. A thriving FAI is important to the future of our industry.

Secondly, it's been four years since we met in person and 40 years since the United States has hosted the FAI General Conference. The NAA is thrilled to have the opportunity to bring together people who love aviation to the Birthplace of Aviation. It's impossible to describe the awe of standing in front of the Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop, where they gained mechanical knowledge that would help them build their historical aircraft, and the wonder of finding yourself at Huffman Prairie, the first airfield, where they perfected the machine that changed the course of humanity. Dayton sits in the heart of the National Aviation Heritage Area (NAHA). To learn more about this designation, please see the brief video below and read NAHA's welcome and efforts to ensure conference attendees visit the Heritage Area sites, available via this link.

Video explaining the National Aviation Heritage Area (NAHA)

Will there be an option for remote participation in the Conference, such as through Zoom?

There will not be a remote option to participate in the 2023 General Conference. To fully address the opportunities to grow interest, garner excitement, and create a united vision of the FAI's long term strategy, every country who can, should attend in person, and be present for the conversation.

It is crucial to you to provide opportunities for participants to engage in discussions about the most pressing aviation and air sports topics. Which topics do you believe should be given priority?

All aviation is under increasing pressure due to perceptions about our environmental impact as well as increasing shortages of pilots, mechanics, controllers and so on. We must have open and honest discussions about these issues and what FAI can do to lead on these issues. Because air sports often inspire people to consider aviation careers, FAI has an opportunity to lead the change and find solutions the rest of the world can follow. The 117th General Conference cannot only be about basic statutory business. It also needs to be a place to speak and be heard during frank discussions that consider the current FAI business model and the financial pressures we are all under. 

As the NAA President, you have attended numerous FAI General Conferences. What influenced your decision to host this event?

At a dinner prior to the 2019 GC in Lausanne, Bernald Smith asked why we’ve never had the “conference in Dayton, the Birthplace of Aviation.”  I didn’t have a good answer. Soon afterwards, I talked to Amy Spowart, who at the time was CEO of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, located in Dayton. She said, “I hope you said yes!”  Amy is a “can do” aviation leader so I went back and agreed. Ironically, Amy will become CEO of the National Aeronautic Association in September, so will be the official host!

Amy Spowart
Amy Spowart

Having lived in Dayton for the last two years and being involved in aviation for more than 30 years, I was disheartened that I never ventured to Dayton until 2019. The pride of aviation, from the founders of heavier-than-air aircraft, to the power of the United States Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Dayton truly is the past and future of the aviation world. To truly understand flight, one must visit Dayton and become immersed in all things Wright Brothers and beyond. I have no doubt that the delegates of the FAI will enjoy a robust discussion around the business at hand, and, in their free time, come to enjoy this place where legends are born, and dreams take flight!

Dayton is often recognised as the birthplace of aviation, making it an ideal location for the Conference. What unique experiences can participants expect to have there, in particular as NAA guests?

Working closely with our colleagues at the National Aviation Heritage Area, a federal designation only given to southwest Ohio by the U.S. National Park Service, the NAA will ensure that FAI delegates will have special access and uniquely curated tours of several of the most important aviation heritage sites. Some of these include the world’s oldest, fully intact, Wright Flyer from 1905. Located at Carillon Park, which is walking distance from the conference hotel, attendees can visit buildings and artifacts that take them back to the turn of the 20th century when the Wright Brothers dreamed and designed their aircraft. Delegates can also visit the Wright Bicycle Shop, Huffman Flying Field (the site where the Wrights perfected their plane), Armstrong Air and Space Museum, and so many other important locations that tell the story of aviation.

We are especially excited about a dedicated event that will take place on Saturday, October 28, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force (NMUSAF). On its own, it is the crown jewel of aviation for history lovers around the world. Comprising over 1 million square feet (92,900 square metres) of exhibition space, the NMUSAF contains thousands of aircraft and artifacts that share the story of American military aviation and provide insight on the past and future of the aerospace world. For the FAI, the NMUSAF will make its airfield and indoor space available to NAA's air sport group members to show and tell their story to General Conference delegates and special invited guests. It will be a must-visit event!