Crucians Win Awards at 2019 Caribbean Aviation Meetup

William "Billy" Bohlke and Ashley Bouzianis head home after the 2019 Caribavia in the BIA MU-2 jet. (Anne Salafia photo)
William “Billy” Bohlke and Ashley Bouzianis head home after the 2019 Caribavia in the BIA MU-2 jet. (Anne Salafia photo)

William R. “Billy” Bohlke, president and chief pilot at Bohlke International Airways on St. Croix, and Ashley Bouzianis, marketing director for BIA and its partner AeroMD, won Sapphire Pegasus awards at the fourth annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup on St. Maarten/St. Martin, June 11-13.

The Sapphire Pegasus recognizes individuals and companies who have made outstanding contributions in the business aviation sector.

Stuart Johnson, minister of tourism, economic affairs, transport and telecommunication on St. Maarten, presented the awards at the meet-up’s gala on opening night.

“Billy is active; he deserves the Sapphire Pegasus. He won it for his leadership in the industry,” said Cmdr. Bud Slabbaert, founder of the Caribbean Aviation Meetup, also known as Caribavia.

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Slabbaert pointed out that the honor goes not only to pilots like Bohlke, but also to people behind the scenes such as marketing personnel.

“We present six Sapphire Pegasus awards each year. They fall into three categories: journalism, leadership, and women in aviation,” he said.

“Billy and Ashley are working darn hard. The Sapphire Pegasus is not only a reward, it’s an encouragement,” Slabbaert said.

He said that he has watched Bouzianis become increasingly accomplished since he met her at Caribavia three years ago.

“She has now joined Women in Corporate Aviation. I am impressed by her,” he said.

Bouzianis won the Sapphire Pegasus in the women’s category.

She credits her father, a private pilot, for her introduction to aviation.

“It has always been a part of my life,” she said. “My dad was one of four boys, most of whom went into aviation,” said Bouzianis. One of her uncles was an air-traffic controller in Houston, another was an avionics specialist for American Airlines in Tulsa.

“It sort of runs in the family,” she said.

Although she says she cannot imagine how she would fare at the controls during a thunderstorm, Bouzianis sees flying in her future. She loves to interest young boys and girls in aviation. When she came to work at BIA, she suggested participation in the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, now a biennial event there.

“We bring the little ones into the hangar and dress them up as pilots. We hang balloons everywhere and the kids color pictures of airplanes,” she said. “Anything that sparks an interest in aviation.”

The Bohlke team walks the older kids through the operations, lets them sit in the cockpit, and shows them the various jobs involved.

“It’s not just about pilots. There are accounting, HR, marketing jobs … there are so many career options,” she said.

Bouzianis has spoken to the younger students on Career Day at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary and has hosted the nursery classes at Good Hope Country Day for an airport field trip. She has visited the St. Croix Educational Complex Vocational Seminar and talked with students about aviation jobs that pay well and are right here on island.

Receiving the Sapphire Pegasus awards took both Bohlke and Bouzianis by surprise.

“It was an honor, but leadership has a lot of depth to it,” said Bohlke. You can’t be good leader without a good team. I do a fraction of the work; it’s the team that makes it all happen. I just provide the vision.”

Bohlke has hired many St. Croix locals, born and raised on island.

“I molded them and believed in them, believed they could do the task at hand. That’s where the leadership portion comes in,” he said.

“Our strategic aviation partnership with AeroMD has increased exponentially while our FBO business (fixed base operator) is still alive and kicking after 60 years,” he added.

A third generation pilot, Bohlke can’t remember the first time he flew but recalls that when he was 10 his father got a small plane, a 1946 Ercoupe, in which to teach him.

That plane blew over in Puerto Rico eight years ago but has returned to St. Croix and is being reassembled – just in time for his son Jack to learn. Jack turns ten in October.

Meanwhile, back at the Caribbean Aviation Meetup last week, journalists, pilots, and movers and shakers of the travel industry gathered to brainstorm. They came from around the Caribbean, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Canada, France, Florida, New York and London.

Their focus: increasing airlift into and within the Caribbean. Attendees also explored strategies to overcome obstacles such as high airline taxes and inconvenient, costly travel between the islands.

Over the three-day meetup, 30 speakers held forums with question and answer sessions that followed. Bohlke’s topic, “Freedoms of the Air,” concerned problems business pilots may encounter flying into another country.

“Freedoms of the Air dictate intra-island air travel from a legality perspective,” Bohlke explained. “So, they lay the framework for how someone can make a living as a commuter airline or a charter company, based on the nationality and registration of the airplane and the company itself.” He chose the subject for its relevance to the current difficulties in traveling between the islands.

The freedoms do not affect private pilots flying for their own pleasure.

Forums concluded with “Women in Aviation.” Bouzianis sat on a panel of five women who discussed their roles in the industry. Executive Director of Women in Corporate Aviation Liz Clark circled the room with her microphone, inviting attendees to join in the conversation on developing career opportunities for the next generation.

The 2019 Caribbean Aviation Meetup wound up in lively fashion with participants invigorated and resolved to make a difference in Caribbean travel. And to meet up again in 2020.

Bill Bohlke, Jr., Billy’s father, won a lifetime achievement Sapphire Pegasus award in 2018, and Bohlke International Airways, along with AeroMD, won a Sapphire Pegasus for their collaborative relief efforts post Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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