Curt Castagna, president and CEO of Aeroplex Group Partners and the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). Courtesy of NATA.

A Long Beach local has taken the helm of the National Air Transportation Association.

Curt Castagna became the association’s 11th president and CEO on Sept. 1 after his predecessor Timothy Obitts, who had been in the role for nearly three years, stepped down.

“Being a local kid, growing up here and being passionate about Long Beach and being able to represent the association is an honor,” said Castagna, who has been immersed in the aviation world since 1978, when he started taking flying lessons out of Long Beach Airport as a high school student.

“This is kind of the pinnacle of where I’m at in my career,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”

The association, which was established 80 years ago and advocates for the general aviation industry in Washington, D.C., represents nearly 3,700 aviation businesses. In addition to representing the interests of its members before Congress and federal agencies on topics such as alternative fuels, flight training and illegal charters, the association provides a range of services, including workers’ compensation and workforce training and insurance programs.

NATA also assists members with regulation compliance services, medical certification programs and even advertising, according to its website.

The group’s membership includes airports, flight schools, charter companies, aircraft management companies and various fixed-base operators, including several in Long Beach, Castagna said.

“What’s interesting is I’d say about 90% of the activity at Long Beach Airport is general aviation related,” rather than commercial, Castagna said. “When you talk to the community, they obviously identify it with Southwest, or previously JetBlue, but those operations are just a small percentage.”

After getting his pilot’s license, Castagna, who went to Cal State Long Beach, said he spent some time flying out of the small Long Beach airfield. In 1984, Castagna began pumping gas and washing airplanes for a company that operated out of the same building he works in today.

He worked his way up to manager before being hired by Aeroplex Group Partners team in 1991. Castagna was named president and CEO of Aeroplex in 1997, a position he has held ever since.

Aeroplex was first founded at Van Nuys Airport—the busiest general aviation airfield in the world—in the 1970s. The firm’s primary focus is the development and management of facilities at airports, namely office and hangar space that is leased to companies that provide aviation support and maintenance, Castagna said.

Today, the company owns and manages about 1.5 million square feet of office and hangar space, according to Castagna, including more than 200,000 square feet on 16 acres in Long Beach.

“Over the last few years we’ve probably completed $60-plus million worth of development at Van Nuys,” Castagna said, adding that the company has expanded significantly over the past five years, with projects now in Dallas, Florida, Seattle and Bozeman, Montana.

Aeroplex also does consulting for airports, Castagna said, noting the company works with airports across the country.

Through Aeroplex, Castagna has been a member of the association for many years, he said. Prior to assuming his new role this month, Castagna served on the NATA board for almost seven years. At various times he served as treasurer, vice chair and chairman, the latter of which was for an extended  two-year term during the pandemic.

This leadership transition follows a succession plan set up by the association in 2016 to leverage longtime members with a wealth of industry experience to drive meaningful change within the organization and for the industry.

“We all welcome Curt’s expansive industry experience and knowledge of the association in helping to further NATA’s impact through advocacy advancements, education innovations, and an elevated industry presence,” Board Chair Clive Lowe said in a statement. Lowe is executive vice president of Virginia-based Atlantic Aviation, which has operations in Long Beach.

Castagna will continue as the head of Aeroplex, noting that he will travel to D.C. or other parts of the country as needed to fulfill his duties for the association. He added that the pandemic has proven there are plenty of opportunities to be effective remotely as well.

“I think the skill sets I bring are developing public airport and private sector business relationships,” Castagna said. “The movement of people and goods and services with private aviation is critical to this country, and doing it safely is our focus.”

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Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.