4 Minutes With… Steve Csonka, Executive Director, CAAFI (Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative)

October 21, 2014 |

csonkaTell us about your organization and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.

CAAFI is a public-private partnership working on behalf of the jet-powered aviation enterprise for the near-term development and commercialization of sustainable, alternative Jet Fuel supply. We bring together constituents from across the spectrum of those who share our interests in an attempt to facilitate progress.

Tell us about your role and what you are focused on in the next 12 months.

Forgive the sports metaphors, but it’s that time of year. On the question of role – Within CAAFI, I’m sorta the 12th man – a coach, a quarterback, a general manager, a reluctant office linebacker, as well as a cheerleader and mascot, and occasional referee. I have the girth to be a linesman or fullback, and I often do blocking and tackling (mixed sailing or farming metaphor?), but there are people in the consortium who are more capable in executing specific tasks than I, and also more nimble. So, more often than not, I focus on coordination of team efforts. As far as focus, we all have more to execute than the remaining minutes in the half will allow, but I distill CAAFI activities down to six categories:

– Advocacy and communication
– Building additional enabling frameworks
– Coalition development
– Deployment initiatives
– Engagement and coordination
– Fuel qualification
… but, we in aviation have commitments to keep, and miles of biomass to reap, before we sleep.

What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?

Speaking for aviation’s focus:
1) Successful execution of multiple first-facilities based on several technologies and feedstocks, enabling learning curve progression of entire supply chains.
2) Subsequent commercial replication.
3) Delivering alternative fuel supply to enable achievement of aviation’s CNG 2020 goals.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change?

I’d shazam an effective, long-term, stable policy environment – most everything else would naturally follow.

Of all the reasons that influenced you to join the Advanced Bioeconomy industry, what single reason stands out for you as still being compelling and important to you?

It’s real simple for me! I’m a believer in the value of air transport … to the global economy, to societal productivity, to cultural enrichment, for diplomacy, for trade, for enlightenment, and reuniting families at thanksgiving …
and my career has been dedicated to moving the industry forward, including in the area of sustainability.

Where are you from? 

Raised on a farm in Western PA, instilled with a respect for nature and its bounty. Worked a few years in the construction trades prior to college. Lived in WV, IL, OH, OK, OH, TX, OH, and currently have a home outside of Cincy. I’ve had the good luck to have traveled the world, and to appreciate the fortunes we enjoy in the USA.

What was your undergraduate major in college, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway? 

I have a BS in Aerospace Engrg. from Parks (Air) College of St. Louis U. I chose Parks because the college was devoted to all things aviation, had a rich history, and a good rep. I chose aero and engrg because I had always been an aerophile, and a fan of math, physical sciences, and problem solving. I continued the insanity with an MS from UC.

Who do you consider your mentors. What have you learned from them?

I’ve had many – and its sad to say that many of them are no longer alive to inspire others – my grandfather and father, a couple college professors, several technical visionaries at GE, some leaders at American Airlines, and a few tough managers along the way. In my quiet moments, I feel the weight of the need to continue their legacy of giving, inspiration, imparting knowledge and wisdom, and leadership by example.

What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned during a period of adversity?

Well, the standard things, like never giving up on things in which you truly believe, keeping your head down, and your shoulder to the task ahead, the wisdom of Covey’s Habits, blah, blah, blah.

But the things that stuck with me from those truly difficult times are the esoteric ways in which I was able to persevere and overcome – or re-ground myself by truly putting first things first … affirming personal values, relying on the counsel and value of true friendships, taking delight in the beauty and awe of the world around me, and taking one step forward …

What hobbies do you pursue, away from your work in the industry? 

Gardening, chicken ranching, travel, wilderness walks, motorcycling, being a good father and husband, continuing to expand my eclectic experience of music.

What 3 books would you take to read, if stranded on a desert island?

1) A blank book of a 2 to 3 thousand pages, and a writing device that would not fail me in my desertion.
2) A comprehensive collection of poetry that is yet to be collated
3) The Definitive Summary of the Collective Wisdom of Humankind (illustrated, and unabridged).

What books or articles are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?

A Digesterati Consummatae! It has been a while since I picked up a novel or biography for pleasure. Most of my daily reading is associated with the aviation and biofuel industries and their pursuits – in which I continue to self teach. I will point folks to a work of science fiction, the Rama series, by Arthur C. Clarke, that I found visionary.

What’s your favorite city or place to visit, for a holiday?

There is no city on my list of favorite places … my apologies to the urbanites … and I unequivocally profess my undying gratitude to the progress enabled by collective civilization, e.g. the unmatched beauty of a full orchestral symphony. But for me, I reinvigorate best and most fully in quiet solitude while communing with the natural world.

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Category: Million Minds

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