Sweet Charity: Airports Large and Small Open Their Facilities to Support Local Fundraisers

Airports Large and Small Open Their Facilities to Support Local Fundraisers
Victoria Soukup
Published in: 

Let’s be honest. If you’re reading this story, you’re likely an airport geek. At the very least, you’re someone who works in the airport industry and kind of likes it. And if you’re really being honest, you still get a kick out of walking on a runway or hanging out on an airfield.

There’s something inherently exciting and interesting about airports. That’s why it can be incredibly effective when an airport allows people outside the industry onto its property for fundraising events such as car shows or an old-fashioned tug of war against a 757 cargo plane.

It was this sort of thinking that inspired Cheyenne Regional Airport (CYS) to partner with the RISE Foundation of Wyoming on its First Annual 5K on the Runway. “I had heard of airports doing this before and had always wanted to do one of these,” says Airport Director Tim Bradshaw.


Charity Events on Airport Property

Location: Cheyenne (WY) Regional Airport

Event: 1st Annual 5K on the Runway

Format: Participants run/walk on runway & parallel taxiway

Non-Profit Beneficiary: RISE Foundation of WY, which assists veterans, service members & their families with mental health challenges

Participation: 180 runners; 250 overall attendees

Focus:  Raising awareness for veteran support

Locations: Calgary Int’l; Toronto Pearson; Vancouver Int’l

Non-Profit Beneficiary: Orbis Canada, which strives to prevent & treat preventable blindness

Event: Plane Pull for Sight

Established: 2009

Format: Teams of up to 20 people each raise minimum of $3,750 for the chance to pull an empty FedEx cargo plane 20 ft. across the tarmac; the fastest team wins

Money Raised: Close to $250,000 (total from three 2023 events)

Location: Raleigh County (WV) Memorial Airport

Non-Profit Beneficiaries: Hospice of Southern West Virginia; Brian’s Safehouse

Event: Friends of Charity Auto Fair

Format: Outdoor display of more than 500 hotrods, custom cars, classics, muscle cars, motorcycles, etc.

Attendance: 8,000 people

Money Raised: $119,000+

RISE is a nonprofit organization that assists veterans, service members and their families with mental health challenges. Given that Bradshaw is U.S. Coast Guard veteran who is also involved in the foundation, holding an event on CYS’ main runway seemed like a natural fit.

The timing was also right for a late August run because Runway 9-27 was closed for a long-term construction project and not slated to reopen for commercial traffic until early September. (See our Nov./Dec. 2023 issue for more information about the runway project.) “It was tough, but since we already had a runway closure going on, we took this opportunity and ran with it. And it went very well,” Bradshaw reports.

Dan Young, president of RISE Foundation, says that CYS was a fantastic location for the fundraising event. “It’s a real nice terminal, there is plenty of space, the runway is awesome and the loop we had was exactly 3.1 miles—perfect for a 5K.”

About 180 runners participated and another 70 or so people showed up to cheer them on and enjoy the food, beverages, games, music and a static aircraft display including a Black Hawk helicopter. Support organizations were also on hand, providing information about how veterans or active-duty military members and their families can seek mental health and other well-being services.

The route for the run included both the runway and a parallel taxiway. The starting signal sounded at 1:30 p.m., and the course stayed open until 3:30 p.m. so those who opted to walk had enough time to finish.

In addition to raising money, the event helped introduce the newly formed RISE Foundation to the general public. “We wanted to get our name out and show the community what we want to do and how we want to help those involved with the military,” Young explains.

As a veteran himself, he is committed to helping heal the various traumas that service members experience. “We want to help people bridge gaps within the system, so our biggest focus is on education and awareness,” Young explains. “We want to let people know what’s out there for them and how to get help. Long-term, we want to help veterans who don’t qualify for much.”

Pulling Together

Strength competitions known as aircraft pulls are another popular fundraising format. Orbis Canada, a nonprofit that aims to prevent and treat avoidable blindness in low- and middle-income countries, has been holding its annual Plane Pull for Sight since 2009. The event gathers teams on the FedEx aprons of three Canadian airports to pull an empty 757 cargo plane across the tarmac. The pulls are held at Calgary International (YYC), Toronto Pearson (YYZ) and Vancouver International (YVR).

Teams of up to 20 people each raise a minimum of $3,750 for the chance to pull a 60-ton FedEx airplane. The team that moves it 20 feet the fastest wins. “The first time I was at the event, I saw it and thought, ‘There’s no way they’re going to get that plane rolling.’ But they do,” laughs Alex Krievins, director of Development and Communications for Orbis Canada. “It does take a few seconds, but then it starts rolling.”

Last year, the three plane pulls raised nearly $250,000.

Krievins notes that the fundraising event is inspired by Orbis’ Flying Eye Hospital, an MD-10 aircraft donated by FedEx that was completely retrofitted with an operating theatre, classroom, treatment rooms, and pre- and post-operative facilities. Orbis partners with health ministries, hospitals and teaching institutions in low-income countries to train local eye health professionals and improve access to care. The Flying Eye Hospital is just one of many tools the organization uses to deliver on its mission.

For the plane pulls, the organization strives to make it as easy as possible for YYC, YYZ and YVR. The airports and FedEx work with Orbis on overall logistics and security, but event organizers handle the intricate and numerous details.

“YYC is committed to contributing positively to the health and well-being of our community,” says Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations Tanis Fiss. “Our contributions to the community showcase the importance of providing sites for vulnerable populations, creating a safer airport environment and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups,” she says.

In addition to allowing plane pulls on airport property, The Calgary Airport Authority supports several community initiatives, including a golf tournament that raises funds to help eliminate human trafficking in the city. It also partners with a local homeless shelter to serve dinner to nearly 3,600 homeless Calgarians, and supports Elevate Aviation, a nonprofit that provides a platform to help women and underrepresented groups to thrive and succeed in aviation careers.

Cars for a Cause

Down in West Virginia, car enthusiasts throughout the region look forward to the annual Friends of Charity Auto Fair held at Raleigh County Memorial Airport (BKW) in Beckley. The show features hundreds of hot rods, custom vehicles, classics, muscle cars, motorcycles, tuners and trucks of various vintages.

The goals of the Auto Fair are to raise funds for local charitable organizations, boost the economy and showcase the Beckley area. This 2023 event was the largest ever, raising more than $119,000 for two local charities—Hospice of Southern West Virginia and Brian’s Safehouse. The 18th annual Auto Fair attracted more than 8,000 people and had more than 500 vehicles on display. 

“We’re very honored to be in a partnership with the Friends of Charity Auto Fair,” says Robert Runion, assistant airport manager at BKW. “Being involved with such organizations helps make our area a better place to live and work, and it brings awareness to our airport.”

The event spread across seven acres of airport property—a main circle of three acres and another four acres near the airport entrance and along a pond.

Janett Green, chief executive officer of Hospice of Southern West Virginia, says BKW is an ideal location for the event. “It provides acres of flat land, the terminal has restrooms and there is the airport restaurant on site,” she relates. “Plus, the airport has been extremely supportive and helps us navigate obstacles and roadblocks we encounter.

“We could not do the event and couldn’t raise the amount we raise for charities if it were not for the support of the airport,” Green emphasizes.

Planning for More

Back in Wyoming, organizers are already looking forward to the next 5K run at CYS. It will take more coordination because the main runway will be open, but Bradshaw says a secondary runway should work well for the event without disrupting flight operations.

Cheyenne Regional’s 5K on the Runway included a static aircraft display.

Hosting the runway run is important because Cheyenne has a very high military presence, he adds. “Being a veteran, I can understand the challenges that take place. I want to make sure everyone has good well-being,” Bradshaw relates. “People are lonely and need to have more human social contact with others. In this day and age of cellphones and Zoom, we have gotten away from that. This was our way of showing support for our veterans.”

That’s great news for RISE Foundation of Wyoming and the local service members it benefits.


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