July 25, 2017 - Sebastien Heintz, president and CEO of Zenith Aircraft Company, has been named the 2017 recipient of the Freedom of Flight Award for his contributions to aviation.
“The Freedom of Flight Award is meant for an individual who has made the general aviation community better through their integrity, innovation, and high standards — and Sebastien Heintz is the embodiment of that ideal,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO and chairman of the board. “He and Zenith Aircraft Company have made building an airplane an even more enjoyable experience for homebuilders everywhere.”
“For me, it’s really humbling because when I see the past recipients I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, these are the icons of aviation,’ and I’ve never considered myself that,” Sebastien said. “And I still don’t. To me this award is not me getting it; it’s me, my family, my coworkers, and everybody at Zenith deserves it.”
Zenith, formed in 1992 in Mexico, Missouri, where the company still resides, has made huge strides in homebuilt airplane kit production over the last 25 years. Advancements like SOLIDWORKS 3D design technology, final hole size match-drilled kits, improved drawings, and assembly manuals have helped make building a Zenith easier than ever before.
For Sebastien, making aircraft building a more enjoyable experience for the builder isn’t just good for aviation, it’s also good for business.
“That’s how you sell airplanes,” he said. “I’ve always said an airplane kit is not a product that is sold; it’s a product that is bought. It’s not by having a sales force push a kit on an unsuspecting pilot; that’s not how to build an industry. How you grow the industry is by showing people how much fun it is to build and fly an airplane.”
In addition to selling airplanes, Sebastien and Zenith have also gifted some, including EAA’s One Week Wonder, a staff-built CH 750, and the Give Flight wings project, which constructed wing sets that were then given to EAA chapters to jump-start building projects.
Zenith also holds monthly hands-on workshops at the factory, and it will soon bring similar workshops to France, other parts of Europe, South America, Australia, and potentially Asia.
As Zenith continues to expand, Sebastien credits his and the rest of his employee’s love of their work to the success they’ve enjoyed.
“It’s an industry I love, I was fortunate to grow up in this industry, and years later I still love doing it,” he said. “Anytime you enjoy something you end up being better at it, whether it’s a hobby or a job, and I think that’s why we do a good job at it — we love what we do.”
Sebastien will officially be presented with the Freedom of Flight Award Wednesday, July 26, during the annual membership meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Theater in the Woods.