Wednesday April 18, 2007
Published in AutoPILOT Magazine
David Knies — Working His Way Up
Huntsville's David Knies Is Proof That Business Success and Humanitarian Service Are Compatible – At Any Age
By Leslie Johnston
Note: Mr. Knies has recently had the distinction of being appointed Angel Flight Southeast's youngest Chairman of the Board and Wing Leader of the Alabama Wing.
While many people look forward to volunteering for organizations they care about when they retire, young Huntsville businessman David Knies is proof that serving others does not have to wait.
Anyone who worries about this country's future in the hands of America's Millennium Generation hasn't met David Knies. This Huntsville, Alabama, native and lifelong resident has not only worked his way up to manager of a travel agency, he is also co-owner of an aerial photography company, he is an aircraft owner, he is a dedicated Angel Flight Southeast pilot and he serves as the organization's Alabama wing leader and chairman of the board – all at the age of 24.
Knies has been flying since the age of 15, and flying for Angel Flight Southeast since the age of 18 when he flew his first Angel Flight mission from Birmingham to southern Mississippi.
"Every pilot looks for an excuse to fly," he says, "and Angel Flight gives us the opportunity to fly and to do something good at the same time."
After that first Angel Flight mission, he was hooked.
"I began to fly more and more missions, and I got involved in the chapter in Birmingham. Soon after, I was invited to become a member of the Board of Directors," he explains. After spending two years as a board member, he was elected chairman.
His plans to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot were derailed by the events of 9/11 and the creation of a market surplus of pilots.
"When that market forecast went down the drain, I ended up keeping the job I had as a travel agent," he says. "I've since moved up to managing the agency, so I'm still in the travel business." He has now been with the company for six years.
"People who know that I manage a travel agency, and that I fly, tell me that I have the best of both worlds," he jokes. "I get the travel agent discounts, and I can get myself to many places that I want to go to on my own."
Knies owns a 1964 six-seat Cessna 210, while he and his business partner and fellow Angel Flight pilot, Blake Mathis, together own a classic 1946 Cessna 140.
"My 1964 210 was rebuilt in 2002. It has a completely new interior and exterior and new avionics," he says.
Along with Mathis, the enterprising Knies founded an aerial photography company, Classic Air Works (www.classicairworks.com), in which he uses both of his planes.
"It was a hobby that spun itself into a business," he says. Although it has a variety of commercial clients, Classic Air Works specializes in air-to-air photography, photographing pilots in their aircraft in flight.
Operating two businesses does not prevent Knies from flying as many Angel Flight missions each month as he can. He was recognized as Pilot of the Year in 2003 and 2004.
"In 2003, I flew 57 missions, and in 2004 it was 55 or 56, I believe," he says. In the fall of 2005 immediately following Hurricane Katrina, Knies and Mathis flew 15-20 missions assisting hurricane victims, in addition to their missions assisting patients receiving scheduled medical treatment. "We got very involved in the work down there because my wife, Clayli, has family in the New Orleans area," he adds, "so what happened down there hit very close to home for us."
One of Knies' most memorable patients is one he flew for three years, from the time she was 3 until she was 6, from Huntsville to Memphis for treatment for bilateral retinoblastoma (cancer of both eyes).
"She had never been able to see clearly. She saw everything in semi-darkness and in shadows," Knies explains. "It was July 3, 2003," he recalls. "It was the first trip on which she was able to see clearly (as a result of her treatment).
When we took off from Memphis, there was a fireworks display at a stadium near the airport. Although I knew Memphis was an extremely busy commercial airport, I requested permission to circle over the stadium so that she could see the fireworks. I didn't expect to get permission, but I thought it was worth a try. They told me, 'Sure, no problem.' They moved commercial planes and FedEx planes so that we could circle at 1500 feet for about five minutes for her to see the fireworks. To see the look on her face, after having never been able to see, and the first thing she saw was fireworks over downtown Memphis, it was just incredible."
The patient, who is now 7, is in remission and is doing well, he says. "With patients like her, we almost become part of the family. We're there with them through the ups and the downs of treatment."
Volunteer Angel Flight pilots like Knies are, undoubtedly, very welcome "family members."
About Angel Flight Southeast
Angel Flight Southeast is an IRS 501(c)(3) organization of more than 850 volunteer pilots who utilize their own aircraft, fuel and time to provide free air transportation to medical facilities for citizens who are financially distressed or otherwise unable to travel on public transportation. AFSE also coordinates missions to fly organ transplant candidates, people involved in clinical trials, chemotherapy or other repetitive treatment, victims of abuse seeking relocation, families receiving help from Ronald McDonald Houses, Shriners Hospitals and many other charities, disabled or sick children to special summer camp programs, and for many other humanitarian reasons. To volunteer your services as an Angel Flight pilot, or to support Angel Flight's cause, please call our headquarters at 352-326-0671, or go to the Pilots Page.