The world’s largest Peacetime Airlift is helping to bring more than 800 athletes and coaches to and from the Special Olympics this year. The games, where more than 5,000 athletes are participating, are underway in Orlando, Florida, and conclude on Sunday.
“It felt like we were celebrities just coming off of that plane,” Special Olympics athlete Tim Burnett told CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.
Organized by Textron Aviation, the airlifts took two years of careful planning. The 128 private planes included in the operation touched down two minutes within each other in Orlando last week, according to the Special Olympics.
The service was donated to Special Olympics teams, which the president and CEO of Textron Aviation Ron Draper says is done to help teams save money.
“The biggest single cost for these Olympic teams is the travel cost,” Draper said. “This is one way to help them get to the games in style and offset that cost for them.”
Amie Dugan, vice president of the North American Special Olympics, says the organization does the airlifts “for our athletes to be treated like the rockstars they are.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime for these athletes,” she said. “When you’re a person with an intellectual disability you are stigmatized, you are often invisible. They’re going to be able to go back home and say to the people without intellectual disabilities in their communities and say ‘Guess what I did?”
Pilot Reiko Bailey said it is “a luxury” to be part of the airlifts.
“I will hold onto this until the day I die,” he said.