More than 120 Textron Aviation aircraft departed from 28 states across the US to land at Orlando Executive airport in Florida with Special Olympics athletes and coaches onboard. Participating aircraft, referred to as 'Doves' by the FAA while flying in the airlift, had priority in the US national airspace system to land and take off every three minutes for approximately eight hours as they brought teams to participate in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
This was the eighth time Textron Aviation had convened the Special Olympics airlift. Since the first one in 1987, more than 10,000 athletes and coaches from across the United States have been transported to Special Olympics World Games and USA Games.
The airlift was the culmination of more than a year of planning by hundreds of individuals at Textron Aviation, Special Olympics, the FAA, Orlando Executive airport, local FBO Atlantic Aviation and many of the event's vendors and sponsors. More than 120 Cessna Citation, Beechjet and Hawker business jets as well as Beechcraft King Air turboprop aircraft owners had donated the use of their aircraft, pilots and fuel to transport more than 800 passengers to the Games.
“This is an extraordinary experience for everyone involved and provides an impressive visual of the power of general aviation as well as the philanthropic side of the aviation industry,” says Textron president and CEO Ron Draper. “The ultimate mission of the Special Olympics airlift is to make sure all the athletes who are invited to participate at the national level are able to get to the Games. Travel is the biggest expense for Special Olympics programmes, and for many athletes this is their first time leaving their home state. Through this once-in-a-lifetime private aviation experience, they are able to travel with their teammates and their gear, and they arrive rested and ready to compete.”
Doves return to Orlando Executive airport after the Games to ensure the teams return home after a fulfilling week of sporting competition. The USA Games offer youth and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to realise new strengths and abilities, skills and success through sports.
“Our athletes are at the core of everything we do; they are our inspiration,” says 2022 Special Olympics USA Games president and CEO Joe Dzaluk. “Our goal is that they have the most amazing, life-changing experience at the Games. The Special Olympics airlift programme, coordinated by Textron Aviation, and the experience it delivers sets the stage for an incredible week. The support the Textron Aviation team is providing truly makes all the difference.”