Owners ready for ’10 airlift

 - October 14, 2009, 6:04 AM

For the sixth time, Cessna Citation owners will be taking to the sky in support of the Special Olympics. The 2010 USA National Games, to be held July 18 to 24 on the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln, is expected to attract 3,000 athletes from the 50 states. Also expected to attend are 1,000 coaches and official delegates, 15,000 athletes’ family members and friends, 8,000 volunteers and 20,000 spectators.

Athletes will be transported to and from Lincoln by 325 Citation operators from across the U.S. Each aircraft will provide round-trip transportation for between three and seven athletes plus a coach or sponsor.

Citation owner and actor Harrison Ford joined Cessna Aircraft chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton to launch the call for volunteers at a press conference at the NBAA Convention last year. In addition to serving as honorary chairman, Ford will also transport athletes. The honor of flying the first flight, called Dove 1, goes to Robert Duncan of Duncan Aviation, which is headquartered in Lincoln.

“Our Special Olympics Airlift happens once every four years, but the business aircraft owners of America contribute like this, without fanfare, every day of the year in a variety of ways. Our hats are off to them and, of course, to our athletes,” Rhonda Fullerton, director of the Cessna Special Olympics Airlift, told NBAA Convention News.

The Special Olympics Games began in 1962 at the home of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, where she started a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities. Shriver invited 35 children to Camp Shriver in Rockville, Md., to explore their talents in recreational sports and activities. It soon became an annual event held at universities, recreation departments and community centers. Within a few years 32 camps were serving 10,000 children across the country. Six years after its conception, Shriver’s day camp turned into a global movement with the first International Special Olympics Games held July 19 and 20, 1968, at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The Special Olympics is now an international nonprofit event fielding 2.5 million people with intellectual disabilities in more than 180 countries.

In 1985, Cessna volunteered two Citations to transport the Special Olympics Kansas delegation to the International Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Two years later Cessna organized the first Citation Special Olympics Airlift to the International Summer Games in South Bend, Ind. Nearly 1,000 athletes and their coaches were transported by 132 Citations.

In 2006, the fifth Citation Special Olympics Airlift coordinated transportation to the U.S. National Games in Des Moines, Iowa. Nearly 1,500 athletes and coaches were transported by 235 Citations. The Citation Special Olympics Airlift is considered the largest peacetime airlift in the world, and during the 15-hour drop-off period, Citations will touch down every 60 to 90 seconds at Lincoln Municipal Airport.

“I don’t think there is any better way to show off a side of business aviation that is rarely talked about on the news or in other public forums,” Fullerton said. “This is but one of the many ways the owners and operators of business aircraft in America actively engage in community affairs and humanitarian efforts.”

In addition to the athletic events, the Special Olympics offers educational seminars to athletes and their families and programming to increase public knowledge and understanding of the qualities and capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities.
Kyle Muzina, a gold medalist in the 2006 Special Olympics USA National Games in Iowa, put Cessna’s effort in a practical perspective: “If we didn’t have [their] help, I’m not sure how we would get there. It is people like [them] who make it happen for athletes like me.”