Aviation is deep in the heart of those who love it. Many pilots think about how they can help general aviation remain vibrant and strong so that future generations can experience the joy of flying.
“Blue skies and tailwinds” is a loving tribute typically offered aviators when they “fly west.” For members of the AOPA Foundation Legacy Society, they have ensured that a tangible gift to future aviators is also given through their estate plans.
“My passion and drive these days is to make sure we generate interest from the next generation to become involved in aviation,” said Mike “Monty” Montgomery, a member of the Legacy Society. Montgomery, the son of a U.S. Air Force navigator, regularly commutes to work in his KitFox two-seat sport aircraft. He recently included the AOPA Foundation in his long-term financial plans by adding a gift to the AOPA Foundation in his will. “We need to make it easier for them to get involved. This to me seems a perfect way to provide scholarships for younger pilots and support the AOPA programs that keep GA strong for the next generation.”
Scholarships for student pilots are only one of the many efforts to grow and support the pilot population that the AOPA Foundation funds. AOPA’s You Can Fly initiatives provide high school aviation curriculum to thousands of students nationwide. Hundreds of flight schools and flight instructors have received valuable support, more than 135 flying clubs have been launched, and more than 7,700 formerly rusty pilots have returned to flying since the program’s inception in 2014. In just one year alone, Air Safety Institute safety courses, videos, and reports were utilized 7.7 million times in 2019 by pilots seeking to improve their skills and safety. Both the You Can Fly and Air Safety Institute programs are funded by donations to the AOPA Foundation.
“Including a gift to the AOPA Foundation as a part of your estate planning is a powerful way to make a lasting and significant impact on the future of general aviation,” said AOPA Foundation Executive Director Melissa Rudinger. “We are honored to welcome those who have taken this step into the AOPA Foundation Legacy Society to recognize their commitment.”
Members of the Legacy Society can make a commitment to future giving in a number of ways: They may give a specific dollar amount or an asset, such as an aircraft, in their will or trust; give a percentage amount from their estate; or name the AOPA Foundation as a beneficiary of their life insurance, IRA, 401(k), or other account. Most legacy gifts are nonbinding and adjustable as circumstances in life change.
As members communicate their future giving plans to the AOPA Foundation, they are offered the opportunity to have their names engraved on the Legacy Wall at AOPA’s headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. Many well-known leaders in aviation have their names there, including Craig Fuller, former AOPA president; Bruce Landsberg, former president of the AOPA Air Safety Institute and current vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board; and Barry Schiff, AOPA columnist. Mark Baker, current president of AOPA, is also a Legacy Society member.
Not all legacy giving comes from individuals who are in more traditional stages of life where estate planning is top of mind. Younger members also recognize the AOPA Foundation Legacy Society as an excellent way to be involved during the earlier years of their career.
“Legacy Society was a good fit for me because I don’t have the means to give a major gift at this point in life, but still wanted to do my part,” said Paul Harrop, an AOPA employee in his mid-30s.
Working for the organization has helped fuel Harrop’s passion for building the future of aviation. “The work AOPA does, funded by the AOPA Foundation, is tremendous,” Harrop said. “I’ve been with the association for nearly nine years, and I have seen how the programs directly impact people. They really do change lives. I have found so much joy in general aviation, and one of the best ways to help share that with others is by giving to the AOPA Foundation. The Legacy Society is how I can take a leadership role in doing so.”
Giving to the AOPA Foundation’s work through the Legacy Society is definitely planning with the long view in mind. Montgomery anticipates AOPA will have to wait a long time before collecting on his promise of future financial support. “Hopefully, you’re not going to be seeing that money for a while,” he optimistically noted.
But when the sentiments of “blue skies and tailwinds” are finally offered, AOPA Foundation Legacy Society members know that their generosity will help future generations of pilots experience the wonders of taking to the skies and riding on the wind that we all have so thoroughly enjoyed.
AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman contributed to this article.