Foundation Focus: Donating your aircraft

Saying goodbye can be a good thing

August 1, 2013

There may come a day when your trusty airplane, the one that took you on so many memory-making journeys, just isn’t such a big part of your life anymore. Once upon a time, you both spent hours together—visiting new places, making new friends, visiting old ones, and seeing the world from new heights. But now, for one reason or another, you simply aren’t putting her to good use, and so there she sits gathering dust in the hangar. Not only is this a nonproductive asset, it’s deteriorating! Aircraft, like people, like to be engaged. So, what to do?

Jim Miles knew what to do. Miles, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, donated his 2008 Tecnam Light Sport aircraft to the AOPA Foundation. Now 84 years old, he didn’t even get his private pilot certificate until he was 60. He rented, flew, stopped, and finally decided to buy. After flying the Tecnam for two years, health, combined with sometimes uncooperative weather, made it hard for him to fly enough to maintain proficiency. Recognizing that fact meant the airplane needed to go.

He attempted to sell the aircraft but the tedious process took more time and effort than he wanted to invest, so he contacted the AOPA Foundation. Within one week, the title to the airplane was transferred to the foundation and the fixed expenses stopped immediately.

Jack Williams donated his meticulously maintained Mooney to the AOPA Foundation. After 23 years and almost 3,700 flying hours crisscrossing the country for both business and pleasure, he and his wife decided to sell the aircraft that had served them so well. But with the market for airplanes being sluggish, he contacted us and we gladly made arrangements to take it. Williams’ airplane recently resulted in a generous $95,000 donation to the foundation.

A donation to the AOPA Foundation preserves the freedom to fly. The United States is one of the few places where GA has not quite been regulated out of the skies, which is why AOPA was created in the first place in 1939. And we intend to keep reminding the government that the skies belong to the people, not the airlines or the government!

Such generous gifts go a long way in helping the foundation take on the biggest challenges facing GA; activities like those of the Air Safety Institute and the Center to Advance the Pilot Community. AOPA membership dues alone just cannot support these important and ambitious activities. Donations play an extremely critical role in helping us take on the hardest work.

Of course, there’s the tax benefit to you. When we resell the aircraft, the gross proceeds we receive from the sale can translate into a healthy tax deduction for you. Your accountant can help you with the details.

Buying and selling aircraft is not an easy proposition. Consider the aggravation of trying to market it yourself, and deal with all the people (if any) who respond to your ad. If it were that easy the broker community would not exist. Which leads us to a second alternative: Paying a broker to sell it for you and handing over a significant brokerage fee, if he’s able to sell it at all; and third, paying hangar fees, insurance, and marketing expenses on the airplane until it sells, which could be months.

A former AOPA Foundation Board of Visitors member, Lloyd Huck, donated not one, but two aircraft to help the cause. Huck was an active pilot well into his 80s and flew a Cirrus SR22. You will remember that in 2009 Huck’s Cirrus was the AOPA sweepstakes aircraft. He then downsized to an LSA, a new red American Champion, which he flew until health and age crept up on him in his early 90s. Huck was one of the Greatest Generation, flying B–29s in World War II, and he was one of general aviation’s greatest supporters—generously helping us to preserve the freedom of the skies that he fought for so long ago.

Occasionally, a donated aircraft stays with the foundation. N8121K, a well-loved 1978 Piper Archer, belonged to Lou Torres and for all the reasons cited above, he decided to give her to us. For more than a decade 21K flew 300 hours a year serving as an avionics testbed and photo platform. We installed angle-of-attack equipment, GPS gear, and photographed multifunction displays from all perspectives. Images of her engine compartment, instrument panel, landing gear, and more will live on for years in AOPA Pilot and Flight Training magazine articles and Air Safety Institute online courses. She introduced many people to the world of flight and served as trainer and transportation vehicle. Piper 21K has now gone on to a new home and continues to fly, bringing pleasure to yet another pilot.

A pilot’s relationship with an aircraft goes beyond the obvious. In most cases it is cherished memories and adventures. Sometimes it turns into a money and aggravation pit. We can help. Let the AOPA Foundation turn your donated aircraft into a contribution that will have a lasting impact on our freedom to fly. It could be one of the best legacies you could ever leave.

Email bruce.landsberg@aopa.org.