The National Agricultural Aviation Association is pleased to announce its 2022 officer team, led by NAAA President Jim Perrin. Serving alongside Perrin are Vice President Craig Craft, Secretary Ray Newcomb and Treasurer Darrel Mertens.
President Jim Perrin (Wisconsin)
Jim Perrin is NAAA’s 2022 president. His company, Agricair Flying Service in Bancroft, Wisconsin, has 10 employees, including Jim and his wife, Julie. Jim is the chief supervisor and Julie manages the office and handles the logistics work with Agricair’s customers. The Perrins have two pilots besides Jim and six employees on the ground crew.
Agricair Flying Service’s fleet of three aircraft treated over 200,000 acres of cropland in central Wisconsin last year, including potatoes, sweet corn, soybeans, peas, green beans, carrots and several smaller crops. The fleet includes two Thrush 510 aircraft with GE H80 turbine engines and a 400-gallon Thrush powered with a Garrett (Honeywell) TPE 331 turbine. Perrin ordered the new Thrush 510P2 powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 that he will substitute and fly for one of the 510G aircraft once it is delivered.
Perrin has held every officer position within the Wisconsin Agricultural Aviation Association, was its board member to NAAA from 2013 to 2016 and continued to serve in other capacities after that. In nearly 10 years of service to NAAA, he has chaired the Insurance, Museum and Budget & Finance committees. He served as NAAA’s treasurer in 2017 and vice president last year.
“Anybody that is doing this for a living should be involved with NAAA,” Perrin says, explaining why he actively contributes to his state and national associations. “The only one looking out for us is NAAA, whether it be related to the industry’s economic health or safety. I don’t understand why we don’t have 95% membership participation. At the end of the day, there is one organization that keeps us safe and keeps us in operation.”
His peers couldn’t be more pleased to see Perrin wielding NAAA’s gavel this year. Wisconsin operator Damon Reabe, arguably Jim’s competitor, but also his fourth pilot and a national industry leader, said about Perrin, “I couldn’t be happier knowing JP is our incoming president. He puts others’ interests ahead of his own at every crossroad and is an exceptional communicator due to his ability to listen and see things through others’ eyes. These traits result in leadership that NAAA will benefit from this year and for years to come.”
Perrin will be the first NAAA president to lead the industry into its second century of existence—and he is enthusiastic about the agricultural aviation industry’s future direction. “We have always faced challenges in the past and will continue to do so. I believe regulatory challenges will continue to be the primary issue, but the work being done by NAAA on both labeling pesticide products for aerial use and other key government policy issues will continue to be critical to our success. Even with these issues, we continue to grow as an industry. I’m wildly optimistic about the future of ag aviation.”
He added, “It’s really the people in the industry that hold the key to the future, and I’m almost always very impressed with the people I know and meet that share this occupation and passion.”
Vice President Craig Craft (North Carolina)
Craig Craft has owned Craft Air Services in Hertford, North Carolina, since 1997 and runs it with his wife, Leslie. She manages the office and is the primary customer liaison. The Crafts have two full-time pilots besides Craig and three ground employees. Their fleet includes two 510 Thrushes, a 400 turbine Thrush and an Air Tractor AT-502. They also farm 750 acres of corn and soybeans and have a small manufacturing business that makes a John Deere seed boot mounting hole repair kit that Craig devised.
Craft is back on NAAA’s Executive Committee after serving as NAAA’s treasurer in 2014 and its immediate past treasurer in ’15. He also is a past president of the North Carolina Agricultural Aviation Association and was its representative on NAAA’s board in 2020 and ’21.
There are plenty of good things happening in agricultural aviation, but the industry also faces serious challenges. In terms of what is going well, Craft said, “The technology is phenomenal. It’s only getting better. The tools we have to work with are getting better by leaps and bounds, allowing us to be more efficient. Using less crop protection materials. Using less manpower. Using less fuel. We’re really making strides in that part of the industry.”
On the other hand, regulatory matters are a seemingly never-ending challenge. “There’s almost a relentless push against our industry from Washington,” Craft said. “If it wasn’t for NAAA, I’m not sure we’d even still have an industry at all. We could very easily go the way of Europe and be regulated out of existence.
NAAA can’t do it alone, however. All aerial applicators need to be mindful of matters and affecting the industry and willing to pitch in, Craft observed. “All of us to some extent are riding on the coattails of the efforts of others, but we all need to do more. People who are not members need to join and support their state and national organization, and the ones that are members we need to get them to step up and participate in the associations. Not just attend but participate.”
Secretary Ray Newcomb (New Hampshire)
Ray Newcomb is the co-owner of JBI Helicopter Services in Pembroke, New Hampshire, with his wife, Donna. Ray grew up on a dairy farm and fell in love with aviation at an early age. He graduated from Hawthorne College in New Hampshire in 1983 with an associate degree in aeronautical engineering, a bachelor’s in business and a commercial helicopter pilot’s certificate to go with his commercial fixed-wing license.
In late 1983, Ray joined Joe Brigham as the first employee of Joe Brigham Inc., the registered trade name of JBI Helicopter Services. Newcomb bought Brigham out in 1995. Since then, JBI has expanded from three helicopters to 13. JBI’s fleet includes Bell 206 Jet Rangers, Bell 206L LongRangers and Bell 407s. The company performs pipeline patrol, mosquito abatement, forestry, cranberry and corn applications, cover crop seeding and aerial firefighting across the Northeast and throughout the country. The Newcombs have 70 employees between JBI Helicopter Services, Craig Avionics and T&M Aviation in Louisiana.
Even though he had been a member of the Northeast Agricultural Aviation Association (NEAAA) for 20 years by then, Newcomb did not become an NAAA member until 2017. “I was aware of [NAAA]. To be honest, though, I was confused and didn’t quite understand what NAAA did,” he confesses. “Then once I found out, I wished I’d been a member a long, long time ago. It’s NAAA that is marching the effort forward to Washington and allowing us to do what we do.”
Newcomb says he now has a much better grasp of how much NAAA does for the industry, including important ongoing work like ensuring that products are labeled and relabeled for aerial use. “We can put our blinders on and think about just flying and how we’re going to apply the product, but if you don’t have a product labeled for it, the helicopter and the airplane are useless,” Newcomb said. “Having NAAA and having people like [Government Relations Chairman] Damon [Reabe] that have taken an expressed interest in making sure that these products are labeled is just unbelievably important.”
Newcomb is looking forward to serving as NAAA’s secretary and taking on a larger role with the association than he has for the past five years as the NEAAA representative on NAAA’s board. “Without the volunteers and the staff, we wouldn’t have an industry. I firmly believe that. When I talk to people that aren’t members, I try to educate them. I say, ‘You know what? I was in your shoes once also. So just join and come to a meeting. I think you’d be appreciative of what they do.’ These people are doing a job for our industry, and we should be appreciative of that and help in any way we can.”
Treasurer Darrel Mertens (Colorado)
Darrel Mertens is entering his 39th season as the owner/operator of Aero Applicators Inc. in Sterling, Colorado. Aero SEAT Inc. is the aerial fire contracting arm of his company. Between them, Mertens has six full-time and four part-time employees and five turbine airplanes. Two Air Tractor AT-802Fs are used exclusively for fire work, while an AT-402 and 602 are reserved for full-time ag work. The fifth aircraft, an AT-802 with a Transland Switchback system, quickly converts from ag to fire work.
Mertens was elected as NAAA’s new treasurer at the association’s December 2021 board meeting. In some respects, he is an unorthodox choice for treasurer, seeing as he previously served as NAAA’s vice president in 2018. It is more common to go from treasurer to vice president than the other way around. In reality, the treasurer has more official duties and makes a two-year commitment to stay on NAAA’s Executive Committee the following year as the immediate past treasurer, so filling the position with a seasoned officer has merit.
Mertens has been a generous supporter of NAAA, so much so that he donated a two-seat, open-cockpit Grumman Ag-Cat to NAAA’s auction at the 2021 Ag Aviation Expo. Such generosity comes from an appreciation for NAAA that deepened after he became a board member in 2014.
“For the first 20 years, 25 years, I was merely a member, and all I did to contribute was pay my dues. And I think the dues merely represent 25% of the cost of membership,” Mertens said. “But after I became a board member, that’s when I realized the complexity of this organization and the issues that were taken care of for me that I didn’t even know anything about before I was a board member—whether it be the fuel tax issue or the government relations issues.”
As treasurer, Mertens realizes the importance of acquiring more members. Doing so will bolster NAAA’s efforts to contend with the array of legislative and regulatory challenges confronting the industry.
“We need to get more people in the organization,” Mertens said. “We’ve got less than a third of the operators being members of NAAA and less than a fourth of the pilots. The pilots are the ones that earn their living by that. And operators need the pilots. It’s a cooperative effort, but we just need to get more people at the conventions—more people paying their dues. We need the voices. The strength of our association is the diversity that we show.”
Strength in Numbers: Join NAAA
NAAA is fortunate to have a dedicated group of officers and volunteer leaders serving on its board of directors, but there is also strength in numbers. If you aren’t a member, the single-most effective way you can address the range of critical issues facing your business is by joining NAAA. The payoff far exceeds what you will spend in dues in the form of effective advocacy, national representation, education and safety programs and the personal connections you will make as you participate in association activities.
To join, call (202) 546-5722 or visit AgAviation.org/membership.