Local News

Massive Airlift Helps World Games Take Flight

Posted April 14, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— In June, thousands of athletes, their families and coaches will arrive in the Triangle for the1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

RDU International Airportexpects the busiest air traffic it has ever handled. A plan is in place to make everything run smoothly and make the travel experience a highlight for the athletes.

Air traffic controllers at RDU International will be unusually busy on June 25, the day the world's biggest sporting event of the year comes to the Triangle.

It is also the day of what is being called "the world's largest peacetime airlift."

Aircraft will be landing and departing every two to three minutes over a 10 to 12 hour period to bring American athletes to the Special Olympics World Games.

Up to 300 of the aircraft will be privateCessna Citationjets donated by private companies. They will transport nearly 2,000 athletes from 27 states to North Carolina.

Similar airlifts carried athletes to past world games in Minnesota and Hartford, Connecticut.

"This airlift in RDU in '99, as I said, will be the largest of all," says Russ Meyer,Cessnachairman and CEO.

Airlift organizers and World Games officials announced the details of their plan Thursday.

Airlift jets will land at a hangar north of Terminal C. The area will become a processing center and road transportation hub for the athletes.

"The transportation, which is a bug-a-bear in every Games that I've ever seen -- and I've been to 14 different ones -- this is very significant to the success of these games," says Dr. LeRoy Walker, president of the 1999 Special Olympics World Games.

The donation of private jets for transportation of American athletes accounts for a savings of several hundred thousand dollars.

Veteran World Games athlete Carl Hibbert says the plane ride was a highlight for him and other athletes.

"I remember all the beautiful flight attendants," says Hibbert with a smile.

Organizers say they hope new special moments will take flight.

Most of the 300 jets involved will be making multiple runs, transporting only six to seven athletes at a time.

The planes will return July 5 to transport the athletes home.