For more than 60 years, Ron Maness has known nothing but the business of flying.
And now he has been awarded the Willard G. Plentl, Jr. Award as Airport Professional of the Year for 2023, embodying both the spirit and industry of aviation for which the award is given by the North Carolina Airports Association (NCAA). The award was announced at the association’s annual conference banquet dinner on March 20 at the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst.
“We are so excited that Ron has been named the winner of the Will Plentl Award for this year,” said John Ferguson, A.A.E., President of the NCAA. “As the Association’s president, I feel that the selection of Ron for this award is a great choice and one that Will Plentl would have been pleased with. This prestigious award honors outstanding professionals in our industry, and Ron Maness has come full circle: he started flying at the Moore County airport when he was young and is back on his fourth rotation as Airport Director today. I congratulate him on earning this award and salute him for the many years of service that he has given to our aviation profession.”
Maness graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a member of the Air Force ROTC. He completed the Air Force pilot training and was ranked the number two pilot in flight school. From his days flying an F-106 against the Top Gun teams at Miramar, CA, to wearing his Captain’s rank as an eventual member of the well-respected Air Force Thunderbirds, Maness always maintained his motto to “just fly the plane.”
After 12 years of Air Force aeronautics service, Maness had commercial pilot rotations with Eastern Airlines and USAir, the DC-9, MD80, 727, the F28 and the F100. With significant marketable cross-training on different planes, he was proud to be part of the unveiling of the Airbus 320 for USAir. Maness retired from USAir’s training and standards division for the first time in 2004.
Maness managed the operation at the busy local airport for the 2005 U.S. Open Golf Championship, along with coordinating operations for the mobile FAA control tower, negotiating the return of Delta regional jet services and developing promotions for the Cessna Fly and Drive events.
Maness was clearly surprised to win the award; the nomination by the Chairman of the Airport Authority was kept under wraps, with him having no idea.
“I am so honored and surprised to be named the winner of the Will Plentl Award and am very appreciative to the NCAA for this honor,” said a humbled Maness following the presentation. “I took my first flight at this airport, and it is clear that I have a special place in my heart for this Moore County Airport, since I’ve answered their call four different times to serve as the Director. There are so many exciting things going on here, and I have such a wonderful staff. The pride and gratification I have in being the manager of this airport cannot be put into words,” he continued. “This honor is one of the highlights of my aviation career.”
Mike Jones, chairman of the Moore County Airport Authority, had nothing but good things to say about Maness in nominating him for this award.
“I think we could have searched every airport in the country and never found a more qualified, more energetic or more dedicated candidate (for airport director) than Ron Maness,” enthused Jones. “Ron’s knowledge about aviation and the depth of his concern for this airport cannot be overstated because the thing that makes Ron so valuable and so unique is his natural talent for leadership. He inspires the whole airport team, and when you work with Ron, you simply want to do your best.”
In the 16 years since Maness first came in as Moore County Airport Director, he “unretired” from USAir to assist with the Embraer test and delivery flights and to also conduct training through the FAA.
In three subsequent stints with the local airport, Maness has been involved with an FAA safe-zone traffic circle, led a Community Gateway at the airport for the 2014 U.S. Men’s and Women’s Open championships, worked to extend the runway and increase hangar space, and worked hard to enhance new ramp and runway lighting. He oversees the management of 18 staff members and has increased customer service for the base customers, as well as visitors.
“In short, over the last 19 years, Ron has served his airport, his community, his county and North Carolina with a strong sense of dedication, perseverance and loyalty,” added Ferguson. “That is rare these days, and Moore County Airport is lucky to have someone like Ron Maness being at the helm.”
Maness is a longtime resident of Moore County and lives in Whispering Pines with his wife, Nancy. They have two grown children and six grandchildren.
Feature photo: Left to right: John Ferguson, A.A.E., president, NCAA; Ron Maness; and Eddie Madden, ECMA-CM, vice president, conference chairman, NCAA/Photo by John Gessner.