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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on April 21, 2011

A good cause

Robin Stone learns more about the caring side of airports through the charities they support.

When 10,500 people descended en masse on Washington Dulles, one might speculate that the airport authority had agreed to host a Presidential convention or stage a major
rock concert.

The reality, however, was very different. The happy hordes who invaded Dulles last autumn were there to watch 50 teams sweating and straining ever sinew to pull an Airbus 12 feet along the tarmac – all in a good cause.

At the end of the day, it hardly mattered that a team from Cisco Systems raised the most money ($24,112), or that the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Offi ce completed the ‘pull’ in the quickest time (5.559 seconds).

The key statistics were that the day raised $110,000 for Special Olympics Virginia, and that the event has now amassed a staggering $1.5 million over the last 19 years.

Today, Washington Dulles’ annual charity ‘plane pull’ – the brainchild of a deputy police chief back in 1992 – has metamorphosed into one of the biggest airport charity festivals in the world.

Across the border in Canada, Ottawa International Airport hosted its fi fth annual plane pull in September to help boost the funds of two charitable initiatives (Project Clear Skies and the Ottawa Senators Foundation) by $55,000 this year – $10,000 up on 2009.

And Cleveland Hopkins International got in on the act in June by challenging 22 teams to see how quickly they could haul a Boeing 737 along the tarmac. The event attracted 700 onlookers and raised $17,000 for Special Olympics Ohio, getting the airport’s 85th anniversary celebrations off to a cracking start.

Plane pulls have traditionally proved popular with airport fundraisers, but charitable projects come in all shapes and sizes. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) organised an aviation run in Singapore as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, raising $218,000 towards its Community Chest, which funds social service programmes to aid children with special needs, the disabled, the elderly and the needy.

Four thousand runners, including Transport Minister, Raymond Lim, gathered on the starting line. CAAS Deputy-General Yap Ong Heng says: “The impressive turnout by the aviation
community reflects its commitment to work together to help the less fortunate.”

Victims of warfare fall into that category, and during 2010, which commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the UK’s biggest airport supported Britain’s armed forces.
As troops continue to put their lives on the line in Afghanistan, staff at London Heathrow chose Help for Heroes as their charity of the year.

Help for Heroes raises money to support soldiers, sailors and airmen wounded in active service, with the proceeds being channelled into recovery programmes designed to help them lead fulfi lling lives.

Charity initiatives are nothing new with airport workers – some projects have been going on for many decades – and are benefi cial not only to the charities themselves, but in many instances provide a useful platform for airports to integrate themselves into the communities they serve.

Heathrow’s annual charity appeal, for example – which in 2009 delivered more than €118,000 to Age Concern and Helpthe Aged through staff fundraising events and passenger collections – is a key part of airport operator BAA’s community relations programme.

Every year, a percentage of BAA’s profits are earmarked for charity, and distributed to the operator’s six UK airports – Stansted, for example, received €82,000 this year to allocate to worthwhile causes.

The independently run Stansted Community Fund offers grants to help fund education, environmental and employment projects within the airport’s catchment area.

Ashley Riley, Stansted Airport’s head of communications, says: “Stansted Airport is an integral part of the community, and we take seriously the responsibility we have to work with a wide range of community organisations.”

Charity initiatives are frequently a joint effort between the airport and its client airlines. This collaboration is evidenced most often in the form of passenger collections, where money can be taken in the air or on the ground.

Sharjah Airport staff, for example, have been collecting money for Sharjah Charity International, which aids war victims in the Lebanon.

Last year Aéroports de Paris (ADP) held its first air ticket auction at CDG’s Terminal 3 in aid of Rêves (Dreams), a charity which takes sick children on holiday. Easyjet, SAS Scandinavian Airlines and Sri Lankan Airlines were among the carriers which participated.

When CDG was approached by Rêves, the airport was quick to support the project. “Our partner airlines also reacted rapidly, which illustrates the mobilisation and solidarity of the air transport sector,” says Pierre Graff, ADP’s CEO.

Tickets were auctioned to destinations all over the world, including Tahiti, New York, Oslo, Milan, Bangkok, Los Angeles, Copenhagen and Madrid.

Children are also in the hearts and minds of Massport workers at Christmas, with Toys for Tots – an annual charity appeal involving the port authority, US Marine Corps and the Massachusetts state police at Boston’s Logan International.

The appeal was launched in 1947, and is a regular feature of airport life throughout the holiday season.

A branch of the international Kiwanis Club based at New York’s LaGuardia Airport also focuses on children. The club’s ties with the airport date back to 1940, when meetings were held in the Kittyhawk Bar, part of the original Terrace Restaurant.

Nowadays, the club hosts a Kids Day every September, when children from the local community are invited to the airport for an afternoon of fun and games.

Other projects organised by LGA Kiwanis include arranging scholarships for aviation graduates to the Vaughn College of Aeronautics, sending underprivileged children to summer camp and distributing turkeys at Christmas to the needy, via church groups and soup kitchens.

Among the more unusual projects is one launched last year at George Best Belfast City Airport – a community fund into which self-imposed ‘fi nes’ are donated to charity or ploughed back into the local community.

The fi nes apply whenever a fl ight runs behind schedule, and range from €60 to €710 depending on how late it is.

In many cases, airports may look to their local environment fi rst when it comes to helping others - underlining, perhaps, the old adage that charity begins at home.

But it certainly doesn’t end there, as poor and depressed communities around the world will willingly testify. A diverse portfolio of aid, ranging from life-saving medicines to flood and famine relief, reaches these people from all corners of the globe.

Take the One Water PlayPump project launched at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, which funds clean drinking water in developing countries. Former Olympic sprinter Linford Christie opened the One Water PlayPump exhibit, a six-metre high replica pump on the departures concourse.

The aim is to promote One Water, an ‘ethical water brand’ that donates all its profi ts towards installating PlayPump water systems in Asia, Africa and other developing countries.

One Water has installed well over 300 PlayPumps, benefi ting the lives of more than 640,000 people; a new PlayPump is plumbed in somewhere round the round the world every three to four days.

T5 passengers can donate via text message or by giving to One Water representatives at the airport. One Water has been sold through Heathrow’s duty-free shops since 2006, selling over two million bottles of water and funding 32 PlayPumps.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, airports invariably redouble their fundraising efforts at Christmas. Auckland Airport is donating NZ$120,000 to charity this year in the form of 12 separate NZ$10,000 donations to deserving causes.

Passengers’ unwanted foreign currency can be dropped into ‘donation globes’ situated throughout the airport to swell the coffers of New Zealand-based charities.

Staying down under, Sydney Airport also contributes to many local charities including the Wesley Mission, Royal Australian Flying Doctors and local rotary clubs, but its primary focus is Youth Off The Streets, which aims to provide a home-like environment for homeless adolescents and help them get their lives back on track.

Airport management and staff also support The Sydney Children’s Hospital by participating in monthly ‘dress down’ days and an annual Jeans for Genes Day charity appeal.

Sydney’s wider community investment programme encompasses schools and youth sport; sponsoring the Newtown Junior Jets rugby team, for example, represents an annual  contribution of around A$15,000 a year.

It has also put A$50,000 of funding into the Sydney Airport Whale Watching viewing platform at Cape Solander in Botany Bay National Park.

The funding is part of Sydney Airport’s community grants programme, set up to assist worthwhile environmental and community initiatives around the airport precinct.

Finally, take a bow Andy Barclay, airfield operations manager based in Glasgow. He recently boosted the coffers of the South Ayrshire Autistic Society when he topped the bidding in a charity auction at Prestwick – to win a shed, which the airport no longer needed.

Prestwick’s office manager, Carol-Anne Elliott, says: “Everyone’s a winner. We have freed up some space at the airport, the charity has had a cash boost, and Andy is the proud possessor of a fine shed.”

The auctioneer’s hammer fi nally came down at €356. Not exactly a massive amount, perhaps, but for charities worldwide every penny really does count.


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