By Dave Hirschman
Manny Maciel didn’t live like a rich man. He drove an old Buick and, later, a 1965 Ford Mustang. His airplane was a Piper Comanche, and he leased it back to a local flight school.
An immigrant to the United States from the Azores, Maciel became a naturalized citizen in 1948. He worked nearly all his adult life at the Sonoma County Airport, first as a line boy, and later as the owner of a fuel concession there and finally a small restaurant. His business was listed on the books as Sonoma Aviation Fuel Services—but pilots knew it simply as Manny’s.
Even though he owned the place, Maciel often serviced airplanes himself, climbing a ladder to refuel high-wing airplanes and driving trucks to the fuel farm. But Maciel was a savvy, long-term investor who bought up a string of nearby rental properties. He reinvested in his own business, eventually expanding it to about 20 employees as Sonoma and the surrounding wine-growing region attracted increasing amounts of business jet traffic.
Maciel eventually sold his company to a large chain in January 2001—but he wanted to keep working at the airport where he had labored for 54 years, so he purchased a tiny restaurant there. He ran it, along with a chef and a restaurant manager, almost until his death in 2005 at 88.
It was only then that a few people realized how much Maciel had saved—and how important aviation had been to him.
Maciel, AOPA member 161360, directed that the majority of his estate, more than $5 million, go to charities supporting aviation safety research. This year, his executors donated $3 million to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. The American Bonanza Society and the Flight Safety Foundation also received about $1 million each.
“Manny lived conservatively and relatively modestly,” said a fellow Sonoma pilot who knew Maciel for 50 years. “He was friendly and out-going. And even though he was the business owner, he worked on the ramp and refueled airplanes himself for decades.”
The San Francisco-based Bohemian Club, an elite group that includes former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other business and political leaders, holds an annual retreat near Sonoma on the Russian River, and some members flew private or corporate airplanes to Manny’s each summer. Maciel was well known to the owners and crews, but few would have guessed he was a fellow multimillionaire—or that his passion for aviation ran so deep. “All these powerful people knew Manny,” a flying acquaintance said. “I doubt they realized they had so much in common.”
Tom Haas loves to fly. Pure and simple. And his desire to share his passion is the reason he stepped forward to start the fundraising efforts in the Campaign for General Aviation.
Haas, president of the RNAV Foundation, has pledged $5 million on behalf of the RNAV Foundation, and will lead the campaign as its national chairman. As an individual pilot-philanthropist, Haas is a model for the type of individual whom he hopes will contribute to The AOPA Foundation. “We need something that will underpin the general aviation industry,” Haas says emphatically. “I have a passion that is strong for general aviation and for the general aviation pilot. I want others to have the freedom to fly that
I have had.”
Haas has been flying in the Northeast for 34 years. He is a CFII and an A&P mechanic, although you probably won’t find him fixing his aircraft. “I just wanted to know everything about the aircraft that I could,” he explains. In addition to other philanthropy work, Haas is one of the original members of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation Board of Visitors and is the owner of Great Bay Aviation in Durham, New Hampshire. —JSW
What are the four areas of general aviation that, if not addressed, will threaten its future survival? And, once identified, how would the association address the issues? These are the tough questions that have consumed AOPA staff, its board of trustees, and its management team.
Months of hard work and behind-the-scenes meetings have culminated in The AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) corporation, which through tax-deductible donations will fund efforts to address four key initiatives to ensure the future of GA, and which was officially announced at AOPA Expo 2008. It begins the public rollout of its $58 million campaign with private gifts totaling $26 million, launched with a starting gift of $5 million by longtime aviation supporter Tom Haas (see “Sharing the Passion,” next page).
“The Campaign for GA—Our Freedom to Fly” is the fundraising effort for The AOPA Foundation, which focuses on the four initiatives, or “pillars”:
To change the public perception of GA requires a sustained long-term commitment toward educating the public on what general aviation means to them and the nation. In 2008 The AOPA Foundation began by engaging the services of a major public relations and advertising firm to develop a conceptual campaign that is designed to educate and positively shape perceptions of GA in the media and general public.
Airports are being threatened every day. Since 1970, more than 1,500 airports have closed. AOPA has a proven track record of working with local airport proponents, the FAA, and other partners to educate communities about local airports that are threatened. With additional funding from The AOPA Foundation, AOPA can move from tackling only high-profile cases toward a program of continued education at local airports, identifying threats before they become serious problems, and create a national effort to educate the public on the value of all airports.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation is the leader in providing world-class general aviation safety training and education. The AOPA Foundation provides ASF an opportunity to fund targeted safety courses to even more pilot and owner segments, ensuring that safety education is made available to all—not just AOPA members.
In the past 18 years, the number of certificated pilots has fallen below 600,000 for the first time since 1966. Something needs to be done to reignite America’s love of flying. In 2008, AOPA launched the most ambitious pilot recruitment program in its 70-year history— Let’s Go Flying. The AOPA Foundation will provide funding to allow the program to expand to include new education and communication strategies with the goal of increasing the number of new student pilots.
“Pilots have asked for years for ways to meaningfully give back to GA,” said Harvey Cohen, executive vice president of The AOPA Foundation. “With the creation of The AOPA Foundation, here is the opportunity for pilots to ensure that pilots today and tomorrow enjoy the same liberties.”
For more information on The AOPA Foundation, visit the Web site.