Aviation takes Christmas giving to new heights

Avatar for Natasha McKentyBy Natasha McKenty | December 17, 2021

Estimated reading time 20 minutes, 21 seconds.

The holiday season is more than just tinsel and gingerbread; for many, the shorter days, wafts of cinnamon, and blankets of snow inspire a desire to pay it forward by donating time, services, and skills. The aviation industry offers a unique and encompassing ability to reach isolated communities. Skies rounded up a few feel-good aviation-themed Christmas campaigns that are sure to give you a case of the feels.

Toys for the North: RCMP, RCAF deliver gifts to children in need

Celebrating its 11th year, “Toys for the North” has been distributing gifts to roughly 4,000 children living in isolated northern communities since Christmas 2010. Donation collections are led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and supported by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

“The Toys for the North initiative is a fantastic opportunity that facilitates cross-organizational collaboration, with the aim of bringing joy to families who are located in our remote, northern communities,” said RCAF Aircraft Commander Capt Mark Bowering.

“Being a pilot on the CC130-J Hercules at 436 Transport Squadron, as well as participating in northern flying opportunities such as these, is such a rewarding experience,” Bowering told Skies.

The Christmas campaign begins during the summer months with the Canadian Toy Association collecting toy donations from corporate sponsors, RCMP detachments, and the public. The RCMP sorts and packages the toys at their Toronto-based warehouse in late November. Once packages are loaded onto a truck, they are transferred (by Thomson Terminals Limited and Gardewine) to 8 Wing Canadian Forces Base Trenton. The gifts are loaded onto RCAF CC-130J Hercules aircraft from Trenton by crews from 436 Transport Squadron, and flown north to children living across Ontario, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“There’s a need up north,” Andrew Rowe, terminal manager for Gardewine North, told CBC News in Thunder Bay. “There’s not a lot of transportation methods up there.”

Toys for the North: A Toy’s Journey

Once delivered to remote communities, RCMP volunteers “wrap and deliver the toys to disadvantaged children.” Over $866,000 worth of toys have been given to children in “the most isolated reaches of our great country” over the campaign’s longevity.

“As always, our focus is to deliver thousands of toys to children living in remote northern communities,” said Toys for the North coordinator, RCMP Cpl. Rob Buller. “Although this year presents additional challenges, thanks to our partners we can continue to deliver toys and smiles to these communities.”

North Star Air, a passenger, charter, and cargo airline headquartered in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has been a Toys for the North partner for the past seven years. The airline receives the donations, which are loaded onto the Basler BT-67 aircraft and distributed to remote First Nation destinations.

Santa Claus and a member of the groundcrew wait to greet the aircrew on board a CC-130J Hercules aircraft from 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., as it lands at 5 Wing Goose Bay, N.L., on Dec. 10, 2018. MCpl Krista Blizzard
Santa Claus and a member of the groundcrew wait to greet the aircrew on board a CC-130J Hercules aircraft from 8 Wing Trenton as it lands at 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland, on Dec. 10, 2018. MCpl Krista Blizzard Photo

Buller added: “With the exception of police work, I can’t think of a better way to leverage those connections than to coordinate a campaign that delivers toys to children who otherwise would not be a recipient simply because of where they live.”

Follow the Toys for the North journey from the GTA to Northern Ontario, Nunavut, and Northern Newfoundland/Labrador on social media by following hashtags #CTAT4N and #ToysForTheNorth.

WestJet’s Christmas Miracle

If you had one wish this Christmas, what would it be?

This year marks WestJet’s 10th year treating viewers to an annual “ugly cry” each December. The Calgary-based airline utilizes real stories of real people to create the WestJet Christmas Miracle, tugging on heartstrings and reminding followers that miracles are more achievable than we might think.

And as the pandemic forced us to press pause on reunions (and non-essential travel), gathering with loved ones became a miracle in itself. It’s safe to say that most of us have been impacted by the loss of physical connection with someone we love.

WestJet Christmas Miracle: A Wish Come True focuses on the emotional and sentimental moments that guests missed celebrating last year due to the pandemic. WestJet Photo

“From lockdowns, porch visits and postponed reunions to missing holiday traditions, Christmas 2020 created distance for everyone,” the airline said.

As a company, WestJet said it “built on care and connection.” The goal of this year’s campaign was “to help Canadians make up for lost time.”

Just a decade ago, when WestJet’s Christmas Miracle began, “miracles” were big-screen TVs, cash, and video game consoles. Now, here we are, fantasizing about sentimental moments with friends and family.

This year’s video opens with WestJetters asking people on the streets of Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver what they are missing most since the onset of the pandemic. “Last year was hard for us all, coast to coast. So disguised as a film crew, WestJet asked, ‘What did you miss the most?’”

“Getting together with our family,” a young mother responded. Another participant shared how her autoimmune disease has inhibited her from socializing. A woman from the U.K. admitted that she last saw her in mother in 2019.

The video features surprises ranging from round-trip tickets and all-inclusive vacation packages to a global reunion between mother and daughter. WestJet Photo

“Hearing Canadians’ wishes, we knew we could do something meaningful given how important travel is to Canadians from coast-to-coast,” said Richard Bartrem, WestJet VP of brand, communications and community investment.

This year’s “miracles” range from “round-trip tickets and all-inclusive vacation packages to a global reunion between mother and daughter,” WestJet said.

“We truly hope this year’s Christmas Miracle brings joy and the personal connection we’ve all been wishing for the most,” added Bartrem. “As the skies open once again, we look forward to doing what we’ve been doing so well for 25 years – connecting our guests with their loved ones.”

WestJet Christmas Miracle: A Wish Come True

70th Annual U.S. Air Force ‘Operation Christmas Drop’

The United States Air Force Operation Christmas Drop (OCD) is celebrating 70 years this holiday season. The mission was born in 1952 when a B-29 Superfortress flew over the island of Kapingamarangi (3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii) and noticed islanders waving. The aircrew began packaging essentials and low-altitude airdropping them from that moment on.  

The Department of Defense’s annual humanitarian mission out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, is a week-long effort where Pacific Air Forces Airmen from the 36th Wing, Andersen AFB, Guam; 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; and the 374th Airlift Wing from Yokota Air Base, Japan, drop supplies attached to a parachute to more than 55 remote islands in the South-Eastern Pacific.

Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 2, 2020. U.S. Pacific Air Forces Photo

In a statement, Pacific Air Forces Gen Ken Wilsbach said this operation goes beyond tradition; it also “provides relevant and real training.” In addition, the commander sees OCD as strengthening “readiness and resolve for when the next disaster strikes in the region.”

Applying the Denton Act, which “allows private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need,” a C-130J Super Hercules airdrops essentials, including food, tools, and toys to awaiting islanders.

Instagram user @36_airlift_squadron video

And although the pandemic created a unique hurdle, it didn’t stop the crews from honoring the tradition – when the need is likely even greater this holiday season.

 “We’re taking deliberate steps to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 during this year’s iteration of Operation Christmas Drop by following CDC Covid-19 guidelines and implementing approved sanitation measures for all donations,” said Pacific Air Forces chief flight surgeon Col Robert Craig-Gray.

If this initiative sounds like the script for a heartwarming film… that’s because it is! In November 2020, Netflix released a film titled Operation Christmas Drop: “a by-the-book political aide falls for a big-hearted Air Force pilot while looking to shut down his tropical base and its airborne Christmas tradition.”

Aloha Aviators support homeless teens, animals affected by California fires

In December 2020, Skies caught up with a group of philanthropic aviators. The women, who met through the Aloha Ninety-Nines (Aloha 99s) were connected by their passion for flying, coupled with the determination to help support isolated communities throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Nobi Buntin founded and formed the charitable group, which began flying charity missions in a Cessna 172, naming it the “Aloha Aviators.”

It was during pandemic lockdowns in 2020 that their Keiki Christmas Charity 2020 (KCC) was born – benefitting homeless teens throughout Hawaii. KCC accepted toy donations and raised over $10,000 worth of cash, gift cards, and service, enabling the volunteer pilots to deliver gifts to over 500 children.

Nobi Buntin (second from top left) founded and formed the charitable group, naming it the “Aloha Aviators.” Nobi Buntin Photo

“When a crisis occurs in Hawaii, the barges that transport supplies to the outer islands come to a complete halt. So, we made arrangements throughout the Hawaiian Islands to deliver masks and essential supplies to those in need within their communities,” Buntin told Skies.

Although things look a little different this holiday season, the group has once again pooled their resources to “combine GA flight training and charity missions.” Buntin, who now lives in California, said her relocation allowed the Aloha Aviators to branch out to include the Bay Area.

“The California chapter was eager to help animals affected by the fires this summer. All funds raised will go towards purchasing pet supplies to support the Companions in Waiting, a rescue and adoption organization in Half Moon Bay,” she said.

While the Hawaii chapter is busy collecting hair ties, socks, and monetary donations for homeless teens of Hilo, one of Hawaii’s outer islands, the Golden State chapter asks for pet food, flea medication, and cash donations.

Buntin admits that volunteers aren’t able to commit as much of their time to the campaign. Nobi Buntin Photo

The California Chapter will conduct the animal rescue mission on Christmas Eve. Buntin and volunteer pilot, Maki Honda, will be flying the mission together. Maki, a Ninety-Nines Fly Now Scholarship recipient, volunteered to pay for the plane rental out of pocket.

A Hilo Island delivery will take place on Dec. 22, 2021, also funded by volunteer pilot, Stephanie Ishigami.

Although pandemic restrictions have eased since last Christmas, Buntin pointed out that “the lack of airport security staff and federal funding has made our missions less efficient and very time-consuming. In addition, the increase of [the cost of] fuel has made it more challenging economically.”

With the economy slowly re-opening, Buntin admits that volunteers aren’t able to commit as much of their time to the campaign. “In addition, the economic effect of the pandemic on individuals and corporations has taken a toll, and it is challenging to raise funds.”

As a result, the two groups have raised just under $1,000 in cash donations and are in desperate need of more support.

KCC accepted toy donations and raised over $10,000 worth of cash, gift cards, and service, enabling the volunteer pilots to deliver gifts to over 500 children. Nobi Buntin Photo

“It is such an honor to promote aviation while utilizing my flying skills to benefit the community,” she said. “As I reflect on my life, mine has been no stranger to setbacks, deviations, and disappointments. However, I have also been blessed in so many ways. This is one way I can pay forward and give back to the community.”

To support this cause, contact AlohaAviators@gmail.com.

Mele Kalikimaka and blue skies in 2022!

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