Trailblazers Navratilova, Rutherford Fire Imaginations to Open EBACE2022

23 May, 2022

Two women – one a tennis legend and the other a pioneering pilot – personified the future of business aviation as the 2022 European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE2022) opened at Geneva, Switzerland’s Palexpo center and Geneva Airport.

Zara Rutherford told the crowd at the opening keynote about her round-the-world solo flight in a Shark ultralight, a journey she completed in January. She is the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.
Martina Navratilova talked about her defection from Czechoslovakia at the age of 18 in 1975, and her subsequent rise to tennis superstardom, eventually winning 59 Grand Slam titles. Along the way, she earned her pilot’s license and has been an advocate dedicated to breaking prejudices and stereotypes.

Their role here? “Opening hearts and firing imaginations,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen.
Like the two women, “This is an industry that can rise to the challenge,” said EBAA Secretary General Athar Husain Khan.

Growing up in Czechoslovakia, “You were at the mercy of the government,” Navratilova said. Despite being rated the No. 4 female player in the world, she was initially denied permission to compete in the 1975 U.S. Open. Finally allowed to go, she decided to defect.

“That was when I realized I was in control of my life. It was a one-way ticket. It was hard. I couldn’t go back,” she said.

Navratilova made her first solo flight in 1999. She was frightened, she said, but “I kicked into the champion mentality. For me it was about being the best that I could be, whether it was playing hockey, or learning to fly, or playing tennis.”

Rutherford’s Record-Breaking Journey

Belgian-born Rutherford described her decision to attempt an around-the-world solo flight, in part because both of her parents were pilots. “I grew up around planes. They’re a big part of my life.”

Her flight west from Belgium took her over volcanoes in Iceland and the frozen desolation of Greenland, to New York City, south to Colombia and up the west coast of North America.

Challenges included wildfire smoke, the expiration of her Russian visa before she was to cross the Bering Sea, and a frustrating month-long wait in Alaska as winter set in. “I didn’t know how the plane would cope,” she said. “I essentially became a test pilot.”

Rutherford later experienced loss of radio contact over Siberia, the quandary of flying into weather or landing in North Korea (which she managed to avoid), the horizon-killing air pollution of India and the beautiful wild deserts of Saudi Arabia.

The bottom line? “Take that that first step,” she said.

Navratilova agreed: “As pilots know, the sky’s the limit. What’s the point otherwise?”