Volunteering as a Flight Competition Judge

It’s that time of the year again… The air is becoming crisp at night and the mornings are a little cooler. This means many things to many people. Football season is upon us (Go Pats, Roll Tide!), the baseball playoffs are coming… But to me, and a small group of others, the impending fall season means it is flight competition season.

The National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) holds a regional competition, known as a SAFECON each school year prior to the national event in the spring. Due to the seasons we face, our regional event in the northeast is towards the end of October. In warmer locations, the regional event can be held early in the spring or even during the more weather-friendly winter…

Photo Oct 25, 3 28 48 PM (1)

A picture from the Short Field Landing event at the 2014 NIFA Region VII SAFECON on Long Island.

 

The northeast United States is known as NIFA Region VII. The region consists of the New England states, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. With 9 active collegiate teams, Region VII is the largest in NIFA. Make no mistake about it, that is the direct result of the tireless efforts to promote the organization of Sean Breen, the NIFA Council member who represents the region. Sean would never take credit for this, but those of us that have been involved with Region VII over the years know it’s the truth.

From 2005 through 2009, as a student at Bridgewater State College (now University), I enjoyed competing in NIFA events more than anything else during my college time. For three years I was proud to serve as the team captain and I was fortunate to compete in the regional competition for four years and at the national competition during three of my college years. The national SAFECON we missed (2008) was a result of a lack of fundraising. We had earned the right to go to that national competition based on our results at the regional event, but we simply couldn’t make it happen.

At my home office I still have my NIFA trophies proudly displayed with other mementos. The two first place trophies bring back fond memories of my best preflight inspection and best set of short field landings from 2007 and 2008 respectively. More importantly, there are all of the funny memories and friendships I made with my team members and members of the teams we competed against. We got to fly planes from Massachusetts to Columbus, OH and to St. Louis for national events and those flights don’t even make the top ten memories list either!

After graduating from Bridgewater, I wanted to give back and stay involved with the NIFA organization. I volunteered as an assistant judge at the 2009 Region VII competition. The event was held in Schenectady, NY and being a judge was certainly a different expereince than taking part in a SAFECON as a competitor. But I had the chance to form friendships with other judges, many of whom I am still close friends with today. This includes Sean and Larry Cutler, the perennial Chief Judge in Region VII, the two of whom I have joined in a fantasy football league this year… These two Gulfstream pilots and I may have eventually have crossed paths join the aviation industry, but it’s highly unlikely we’d become good friends if it wasn’t for NIFA.

I recognized as a competitor that the events wouldn’t have been possible if not for the generosity of the volunteer judges who gave up their time, effort, energy and recourses. Aside from missing one competition due to work commitments I have continued to volunteer annually at Region VII events. I worked my way up from assistant judge to event judge as a result of my interest in the preflight event, a favorite of mine since winning it in 2007. Recently, I have been thrilled to serve as the Associate Chief Judge for Region VII.

This year we will be holding the Region VII SAFECON at New Bedford Regional Airport. We’re excited because it is extremely rare to have solid communication and understanding between the host school, airport management and control tower. In an effort to help with event coordination Sean and Larry have allowed me the opportunity to serve as the Regional Chief Judge this year, something I consider an honor and something I am very proud of. Working as the assistant airport manager at New Bedford, we have the opportunity to be closely tied in with the host school and control tower, and obviously the airport management.

Either way, regardless of what role I play in the event, SAFECONs are increidble events. The passion and excitement about our (aviation) industry are palpable and it’s really a “cool” atmosphere to be around. Even between all the hurrying up and waiting and fast paced, quick events, competitors maintain an enthusiasm unequalled in aviation.

If you ever have the opportunity to take part in a NIFA event, I highly recommend you take the opportunity. For you, it is a ton of fun and can be a great aviation networking opportunity. For the competitors you are providing an opportunity, and thus helping the future wave of the aviation industry.

If this year’s installment of “why you should get involved with NIFA” didn’t convince you, but at least has you considering it, check out my pitch from last year for flight competition volunteers, titled What YOU can do to HELP the FUTURE of Aviation. Maybe after reading both of them you’ll be sold! And if you have any interest in volunteering at the Region VII event at EWB, it will be held October 23-26, let me know, we’d be happy to have you!

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9

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