June 5, 2022

Orlando Executive Airport (ORL) was the location this weekend for a unique and important business aviation initiative to support the Special Olympics. Approximately 120 “doves” – the special call-sign designation for aircraft carrying Special Olympics athletes and coaches – arrived at the airport from 28 states to deliver the competitors to the games.

The arrivals started under rainy skies, but the gloomy weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The energy could be felt from the moment athletes stepped off their flights, greeted an enthusiastic crowd at the welcome center and departed on their way to the games.

“This is one of the most exciting days in business aviation,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “Everyone has come together for a mission that brings athletes together, brings our community together and celebrates who we are and what we do best.”

For more than 35 years, aircraft owners from across the country have supported the Special Olympics Airlift (SOA). Growing from just two Cessna Citation aircraft in 1985 flying into Park City, UT, with members of the Kansas delegation, the operation is now the largest peacetime airlift in the world, bringing together aircraft from individual owners and companies to provide transportation to 5,500 athletes and coaches to participate in this year’s games, the largest count ever.

“This is the eighth airlift that we’ve conducted for the Special Olympics,” said Ron Draper, president and CEO, Textron Aviation. Having provided transportation to more than 10,000 athletes over the airlift’s history, he acknowledged, “We couldn’t do this alone, of course. I’d like to thank our customers who donated their airplanes, fuel and aircraft to bring these athletes here.”

Athletes come to make their mark at the games. “I know a thing or two about competition,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, this year’s honorary SOA chair. “It was always important to arrive ready for the sport I was playing, and to be at my best. This is a very important competition for these Special Olympics athletes. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and the airlift allows them to come here and arrive ready to perform and give their all.”

Manning said events like the SOA require impressive teamwork, with Textron Aviation in the quarterback position, and their generous customers comprising the team by donating use their aircraft, fuel and pilots to allow athletes to compete at the national level on the trip of a lifetime.

Joe Dzaluk, president and CEO of this year’s games, agreed that the week represents the culmination of hard work and effort. Speaking to the athletes, he said, “My hope is that you walk out of these games inspired and believing that you’re capable of doing more than whatever you thought possible.”