'Hat in the Ring' invests in aviation's future

December 13, 2012

Don Bernard likes to say that submarines and aircraft have a lot in common. The medium in which they operate may differ, but with the right skills and instruments, you can get them where they are going.

After his days as a Navy submariner, Bernard, of Bozeman, Mont., embraced aviation with gusto in his professional and personal pursuits. From trainers to turboprops and Learjets, and from the U.S. Northwest to southernmost Argentina, the attorney and business owner has been flying since 1969. (If you were a spectator at an airshow of the then-Confederate Air Force during the 1970s, one of the vintage Zeros that overflew the airport during a simulated strafing run may have had Bernard at the controls.)

A life member of AOPA, Bernard said he shares the concern of all pilots about the need to address the decline of the pilot and student pilot population. And the value of safety programs can never be overstated. Those were reasons why he decided to throw his hat in the ring and help promote those causes in a way that would reach the widest possible aviation audience, he said.

To that end, Bernard recently joined the AOPA Foundation’s Hat in the Ring Society. Its members make a commitment of $1,000 a year to support Foundation initiatives in support of safety, airport preservation, growth of the pilot population, and promotion of general aviation’s public image. Through an awards program, the society also recognizes efforts to promote and grow general aviation.

“I joined the Hat in the Ring Society because of my interest in safety,” he said.

Bernard was already an active participant in promoting general aviation, as the donor of two travel packages: a week of fly fishing at his lodge on Jurassic Lake in Patagonia, and a hunting excursion at Nehuen Mapu, a premier Patagonia game ranch. He offered both for bids in the A Night for Flight auction at AOPA Aviation Summit.

Taking bold steps to achieve big goals is not a new idea to Bernard. He serves as local strategic advisor to the energy efficiency and sustainability company Negawatt Business Solutions. And following an agreement with the Argentine government, his ranch has become the site of an effort to study reintroduction of the guanaco, a wild llama, following the near-eradication of the animals, he said.

Recently, Bernard has been flying a Cirrus SR22 single-engine airplane, and a Beech Baron that was based at his Argentina ranch until it was recently sold, Bernard said. He hopes to replace it with a turboprop aircraft.

In a phone interview, Bernard stressed the importance of reaching out to the aviation community and beyond through the AOPA Foundation’s initiatives.

“There’s not a lot that individual pilots can do to affect a lot of people unless they are directly involved in aviation,” he said. “This is a good vehicle to do that.”

Bernard said he has been in aviation long enough to have seen some of the consequences of unsafe flying that the programs seek to remedy.

“The programs they sponsor are really important to show how people can avoid these disasters,” he said. “It’s been a motivating thing for me.”

Just as important, he said, is the work AOPA Foundation’s initiatives do to reverse inaccurate characterizations of general aviation, and set the record straight.

Many people “don’t recognize the contribution aviation makes to the communities,” he said.

Donor support critical

Donations to the AOPA Foundation are critical to protecting our freedom to fly, and the generosity of Hat in the Ring Society members helps support four key AOPA Foundation initiatives.

The Air Safety Institute provides safety education to more than 200,000 general aviation pilots annually through online safety courses, live seminars, webinars and other programs.

The Center to Advance the Pilot Community is AOPA’s new program focused on arresting the decline in the pilot population. It strives to strengthen the communities in which pilots earn their certificates through flying clubs, student pilot retention and research, and helping people enjoy the benefits of flying.

AOPA’s airport advocacy program ensures the strength of the nation’s 5,200 public-use airports by vigorously engaging policy-makers and decision makers to inform them of the facts about the economic impact and community benefits of airports.

The AOPA Foundation’s new charitable giving program, Giving Back, was established to support and spotlight the good work being done through general aviation. Your gift to the AOPA Foundation helps fund grants to aviation-related charities, student scholarships, and provides free AOPA memberships for teens and members of the military.