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Aiming High

By Caryn Eve Murray

December 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Newsday. All rights reserved. 

When Anibal Lopez received his Christmas present a little earlier than usual this year from his mother, his heart took wing.

In fact, so did the rest of him.

At long last Lopez, 35, of Garden City South, was a student pilot. The $49 gift certificate for his first lesson at Air East Airways soon landed him on the runway at Republic Airport in Farmingdale and set him on a course of study that, he hopes, will lead to getting his private pilot's license from the Federal Aviation Administration next summer.

"She knew I wanted to fly so bad, so she rushed it," said Lopez, who plans to spend much of the holiday season continuing the training begun last summer in a single-engine Piper Warrior.

"I've loved planes since I was a kid," said Lopez, a maintenance worker in Hempstead. As a child he was almost always delighted to visit Puerto Rico , because he got to board a small airplane taking his family to visit Vieques , where he was born.

Be a Pilot, the aviation industry's nonprofit education and awareness program, makes certificates available online for lessons at participating flight schools, and Air East's operations manager, Maureen Tarascio, said that about half of the school's 150 or so students each year land there as a result of being a gift recipient.

Lopez said his mother bought his gift online at - but she's keeping her own two feet on the ground. "Mom says she will never go up with me; she doesn't like small planes," he said.

Clearly her gift came to him out of the blue - and it has sent him, happily, back there.

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