Ben Baldanza Selected to Receive the 2024 Wright Trophy

Aviation leader recognized for making flight accessible to millions

National Aeronautic Association
Contact: Amy Spowart
[email protected]

Washington, D.C., June 17, 2024The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) is pleased to announce that Ben Baldanza is the recipient of the 2024 Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy.

Baldanza, who has nearly four decades of experience in the airline industry, is considered a leading visionary for introducing the ultra-low-cost model to the United States, which expanded air travel access to millions of Americans. In 1986, Baldanza began his career at American Airlines and helped to develop the first hub-and-spoke and frequent flier system. In 2005, Baldanza joined Spirit Airlines as President and CEO, intending to drive down prices for travelers and create an avenue for middle-class and working-class Americans to fly to leisure destinations. His success in promoting the “unbundling” airplane model made travel more accessible to millions.

“I know I speak for the entire Wright Brothers Trophy selection committee when I say how thrilled we are with Ben being this year’s trophy winner,” said NAA Board Chair Jim Albaugh. “Ben’s career is a storied one. He is universally respected for what he has done, not just at Spirit Airlines, but for how he has impacted the industry over the last several decades. We look forward to celebrating his selection later this year.” Since stepping down as CEO of Spirit Airlines in 2016, Baldanza has continued to be a leading voice in aviation. He currently serves on the Board of JetBlue, is the Chairman of Six Flags Entertainment, and co-hosts the Airlines Confidential podcast, further cementing his status as a respected figure in the industry. 

“The Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, established by the NAA in 1948, is a prestigious honor commemorating the memory of Orville and Wilbur Wright,” said Amy Spowart, President and CEO, NAA.  “It is awarded annually to a living American who has made significant contributions of enduring value to aviation in the United States. This esteemed trophy serves as a timeline of the most innovative inventors, explorers, industrialists, and public servants in aeronautics and astronautics, making Ben Baldanza’s selection a testament to his remarkable career.”

“Words can’t express how humbled and honored I feel about this amazing award,” said Baldanza. “To be thought of in this broad aviation field that includes business luminaries, visionaries, government officials, top military officers, and astronauts is truly an honor that I never expected. I’d like to thank the committee and all my friends and colleagues who personally supported my nomination.”

Baldanza will receive the Wright Trophy at the Aero Club of Washington’s 76th Annual Wright Memorial Dinner on December 13, 2024, in Washington, DC. For more information about the award or a list of past recipients, please visit For updated information regarding the presentation of the Wright Trophy, please visit

The 2024 Selection Committee Members are:

  •  James Albaugh, Board Chair, National Aeronautic Association
  •  Nicole Battjes, Chair, Vertical Aviation International
  •  Marion Blakey, 2013 Wright Trophy Recipient
  •  Andy Cebula, Vice President, Air Traffic Management & Operations, Airlines for America
  •  Eileen Collins, 2022 Wright Trophy Recipient
  •  Daniel Dumbacher, Executive Director, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  •  Jon Ostrower, Editor-in-Chief, The Air Current
  •  Dorothy Reimold, Vice President, Civil Aviation, Aerospace Industries Association
  •  David Richardson, President, Aero Club of Washington

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) is a non-profit membership organization devoted to fostering opportunities to participate fully in aviation activities and promoting public understanding of the importance of aviation and space flight in the United States. The NAA is the caretaker of some of the most important aviation awards in the world and certifies all national aviation records set in the United States. For information, visit