December 20, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
Here’s a good reason to act on the decision to make a long-term commitment to support general aviation: GA pilots are helping science improve the health of our planet.
If that sounds over the top, let a research scientist who flies a kitbuilt twin on critical data-gathering missions help you decide.
When environmental scientists study how the earth captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making estimates of forests’ capacity to act as “sinks” that take up the greenhouse gas is a key metric of the research. Nitrogen deposition—for example, in lakes—is also a factor, so measuring nitrogen is critical.
If a scientist/pilot had not been able to use a twin-engine amphibious AirCam to gather data from small, remote lakes of the northern forest, “the world would not know what we now know about the impact of nitrogen deposition in lakes,” said Edward McNeil, an environmental scientist, pilot, and AOPA member.
“Protecting our freedom to fly is very important,” he said.
Today’s pilots share a deep concern about the declining ranks of the pilot population, encroachment on airports, misinformed public policies, and unfair media characterizations. They feel strongly that all those trends must be reversed.
Facing such overarching tasks, a pilot might well wonder how an individual can make a difference. McNeil is a pilot who believes that individuals are making a difference every day by participating in aviation philanthropy—the mission of the AOPA Foundation through its programs tailored to accommodate the charitable goals, estate planning provisions, and generosity of many donors.
The AOPA Foundation, a501(c)(3) charitable organization, believes that the future of general aviation is inextricably linked to today’s pilots who fund critical initiatives with tax-deductible donations through the philanthropic arm of AOPA.
An effective way to participate is to become a member of the AOPA Foundation’s Legacy Society by including the AOPA Foundation in a will; establishing a charitable gift annuity or trust to benefit AOPA; or by naming the AOPA Foundation as a beneficiary of a retirement plan or life insurance policy.
McNeil, a 4,000-hour pilot, owns and flies two twin-engine AirCam aircraft, and has often taken advantage of AirCams’ ability to fly into and out of tight—and wet—places from the Yukon to Labrador or the Dominican Republic. Since retiring in the early 1990s, he has been working with the Nature Conservancy and other groups on environmental research projects as a scientist and pilot.
When conducting surveys of northern lakes, scientists “had to sample literally hundreds of lakes. Most are quite small.” The work had to be done during a short stretch of summer when the lakes were not affected by spring runoffs or heavy fall rains. Some lakes were only a few hundred feet across—but the low-and-slow-flying AirCam got the job done.
Already a life member of AOPA and the AOPA Foundation’s Hat in the Ring Society, and a member of the AOPA Foundation’s Board of Visitors, McNeil said it was a natural progression for him to participate in the Legacy Society as well. It provides a donor with the opportunity to make a long-term commitment that can have a lasting impact, he said.
An organization with a committed leader, a dedicated staff, and an appropriate amount of support “can make a huge difference, but the key there is ‘an appropriate amount of support,’” he said in an interview. AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg and his staff are “working very hard to make a difference. We need to give him all of the tools he needs to do that,” McNeil said.
As a legacy program’s membership increases, the program can grow stronger and more capable of contributing to the robust annual support of AOPA Foundation initiatives, he said.
Four key initiatives
Donations to the AOPA Foundation are critical to protecting our freedom to fly. Membership dues alone cannot fully support the challenging projects that the Foundation sustains. Donors generously help support four key initiatives:
The Air Safety Institute—the nation’s undisputed leader in providing safety education to America’s GA pilots. Each year, more than 200,000 aviators participate in the institute’s online safety courses, live seminars, webinars and other programs.
The Center to Advance the Pilot Community—AOPA’s new program focused on arresting the decline in the pilot population. By strengthening the communities in which pilots earn their certificates—through flying clubs, student pilot retention and research—the center is helping people enjoy the benefits of flying.
Airport advocacy—AOPA’s program to ensure the strength of America’s 5,200 public-use airports by vigorously engaging community leaders across the country to share information on the economic impact and community benefits of airports.
Giving Back—the AOPA Foundation’s new charitable giving program, established to support and spotlight the good work being done through general aviation. Donations to the AOPA Foundation help fund grants awarded to aviation-related charities, scholarships to students, and free AOPA memberships for teens and members of the military.
For more information on including AOPA in your will or estate plan, visit the AOPA Foundation online.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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