Business aviation showed its heart in many ways during the holiday season, but three events in particular highlighted the extraordinary generosity found among the amazing people who drive this industry.
NBAA Air Traffic Services sent out a message on NBAA Air Mail before Christmas, asking for help arranging a flight for the family of TSgt Joe Lemm, a New York City detective and New York Air National Guardsman who was killed in Afghanistan in December. A generous NBAA member arranged to fly Lemm’s father, wife and an assistant from Dubuque, Iowa, to New York City for the holidays.
Chantilly Air, a charter operator in Manassas, Va., joined with iHeart Radio's The Kane Show and radio station Hot 99.5 and transported 10 children of local veterans in a Learjet 60 to the “North Pole” for a meeting with Santa Claus, who gave each child a gift. The event was facilitated by veterans employment non-profit Able Forces and Carlos Melendez of the Quantico Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment. “The excitement they expressed for the holiday season was unforgettable,” said Tim Sullivan, COO and director of operations for Chantilly Air. “We are delighted to have been able to work with Able Forces and The Kane Show, and look forward to making this an annual tradition in our Washington D.C. community.”
On Christmas Eve, Kansas City companies and donors joined with more than 500 volunteers to bring to life the dreams of six-year-old Caroline Lopez, who suffers from a brain tumor.
Caroline’s day began with a visit from the Snowflake Princess, who arrived with an invitation to visit the North Pole, because Caroline had mailed some of her handmade snowflakes to Santa, and hers was the most beautiful of all.
Although the volunteers all asked to remain anonymous, we do know that Caroline and her siblings and mother, Janna, flew the the North Pole on an Executive AirShare Phenom 300, piloted by chief pilot Alex Franz and assistant chief pilot Ben Petersen. The flight departed from Wheeler Downtown Airport and landed a half hour later at Johnson County Executive Airport, where it taxied into Hangar #2, which the volunteers from the Elves of Christmas Present had transformed into Santa’s Headquarters. Caroline had been instructed that the location was top secret and to keep the window shades closed during the flight.
Upon arrival in the hangar, the jet’s door opened, and Caroline was welcomed by Santa and his elves, who gave her a tour of the headquarters. She saw Santa’s sleigh, the mailroom with busy elves answering children’s letters, the Naughty and Nice electronic monitoring station, a Christmas countdown clock, the toy-making station, hundreds of wrapped gifts at the gift-wrapping station ready for delivery on the sleigh and Candy Land.
Although she wasn’t feeling well that day, according to an Executive AirShare spokeswoman, “Caroline and her family truly enjoyed this amazing experience. The Elves of Christmas Present set up an amazing North Pole setting and she really believed she visited Santa at the North Pole.”
Afterwards, during the cleanup of the hangar, the Elves of Christmas Present had another surprise in store. Anna, one of the volunteers helping clean up boxes in a section of the hangar, was there with members of her gymnastics team. While practicing earlier this year, Anna was paralyzed, and her medical insurance had declined to cover the cost of a special piece of equipment—an F.E.S. bike—needed to provide electrical stimulation to her legs to prevent atrophy. While Anna and her teammates were digging through the boxes, they found a large box marked with her nametag, and inside the box was the F.E.S. bike, purchased by a generous and anonymous contributor.