EBAA boss tells EBACE business aviation show: ‘We are back’


EBACE Reports

“We are back,” were the opening words of Athar Husain Khan, secretary-general, European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), in his keynote address on the opening day (May 22nd) of the first European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) show in Geneva in three years.

“And we couldn’t be more happy to have European business aviation and world aviation back on European soil for the first time in three years,” he said. “The industry had gone through a lot changes in the past three years and new technology is highlighted here at this year’s show.”

Advanced air mobility (AAM), Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Rapid Air Mobility (RAM), all featured in this year’s event. “These are no longer things of the future – they are here now,” said the EBAA’s Khan.

Business aviation had grown in stature during the pandemic years, with a growing commitment to sustainability topics such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), he said. A new generation of young people were coming into the industry and finding a sector dedicated to equality and inclusion.

Business leaders had grown exasperated by Zoom calls and wanted to use business aviation to meet clients, partners and industry contacts around Europe and the wider world.

The theme of sustainability was picked up by André Schneider, CEO, Geneva Airport. “We must all fight in the industry for the freedom to travel,” he told show goers. “My dream is that aviation becomes climate compatible.” SAF had an important role to play in that process.

Covid had led to Geneva Airport experiencing three months without passengers, he said. “The industry has gone through the biggest crisis since the Second World War.” The airport has now reached 80% of the passengers seen in 2019 and during the summer should seen 90% to 100% of travellers see three years ago. “We are now getting to the end of the Covid crisis and I hope the war in Ukraine will not over take Covid [as a source of global disruption].

Business aviation generates significant flight movements for Geneva Airport. In fact, the airport is seeing more business flights now than in 2019.  But as commercial aviation continues its long slow recovery, pressure on slots is likely to intensify, he warned.

The keynote session ended with inspiration from two celebrity private aviators – one of whom is rather good at tennis. Star player Martina Navratilova, whose trophy cabinet contains 59 Grand Slam tennis titles, talked to Ed Bolen, president and CEO at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). During their conversation Navratilova revealed her determination to success in top level tennis (initially without a coach), her 1975 defection from Czechoslovakia and a battle against breast cancer.

Navratilova also remembered her battle against nerves while learning to fly a light single-engine aircraft in Aspen, Colorado and her unforgettable first solo in which one of the aircraft doors opened in flight.

The second celebrity guest was Zara Rutherford, the Belgian-British aviator, who at the age of 19 became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. Rutherford gave a thrilling account of piloting her Shark, single-engine microlight aircraft on an epic journey of 32,000 miles (51,000 km). Recalling the constraints of flying by Visual Flight Rules and a weather enforced month’s stay in Nome, Alaska, Rutherford drew a powerful message from her adventure: “If you have the opportunity – just go for it.”

Above: Celebrity aviators at EBACE: Tennis super star Martina Navratilova is pictured with the world’s youngest round the world pilot Zara Rutherford.

Top: Racket in hand, Navratilova was joined on stage by (L to R) André Schneider, Athar Husain Khan, Zara Rutherford and Ed Bolen.