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PITTSTON TWP. — Eve Hennigan, executive assistant at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, is compassionate about a new program — Wings for All — that will be landing at the airport on Sept. 21.
Wings for All is an airport “rehearsal” program designed specifically for individuals with autism or other intellectual disabilities.
Hennigan’s son, Tommy, 31, has autism, so she knows how important the program will be to acquaint people of all disabilities with the experience of flying.
Hennigan presented the program at Thursday’s meeting of the Bi-County Airport Board.
Carl Beardsley, the airport’s executive director, praised Hennigan for her work on bringing the program to the airport.
“Eve worked so hard on this,” Beardsley said. “She is so passionate about it.”
Beardsley also announced that July set an all-time record for passenger boardings for the airport. In recent months, Beardsley has reported that every month enplanements have gone up and are exceeding past monthly totals.
Beardsley reported a record-breaking 582,744 passengers flew into and out of AVP between August 2018 and July 2019 – continuing a 12 consecutive month trend of record-breaking growth.
Hennigan said part of living a full life in the community includes being able to travel to faraway locations for work and pleasure.
“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are entitled to this piece of community participation — just like anyone else — and they should be able to navigate air transit comfortably to experience the same opportunities as every other traveler,” Hennigan said.
Hennigan went on to explain that people with autism and other disabilities often experience barriers to participating in air travel. She said airports and airplanes can be overwhelming and full of unexpected and overstimulating variables, such as bright lights, noises, TSA security screening, and crowds.
“Too often, there is a lack of understanding among airport and airline staff — leading to confusion on how to handle accommodations or unexpected behaviors when a flier is overwhelmed or nervous about navigating the air travel process,” Hennigan said. “Combined, these barriers lead to hesitation and fear, inhibiting participation in air travel.”
As a result, Hennigan said people can miss out on new experiences and connecting with family members and friends that live far away.
Hennigan said The Arc’s Wings for All Program gives families and aviation professionals the confidence to take to the skies with ease by providing an airport “rehearsal,” as well as a presentation on the aircraft features and in-flight safety protocols. Families are given the opportunity to practice all steps involved in air travel including: entering the airport, obtaining a boarding card, going through TSA security, and boarding a real plane (that taxis, but does not take off).
In addition to the Sept. 21 event, a small reception will be held for all participants with light snacks and refreshments after deboarding the aircraft.
Hennigan thanked SkyWest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Delta Global Services for the usage of the aircraft and personnel for this event.
The Sept. 21 event is free to families, but preregistration is required as space is limited. Wings for All is a national program of The Arc of the US.
For more information, including how to register for the event, sponsorship or volunteer opportunities, visit the Airport’s website at — www.flyAVP.com — or contact Roseann Polishan at The Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania at 570-346-4010 or [email protected]
In other business, the board:
• Approved its master plan — McFarland Johnson’s John L. Mafera reviewed the plan with the board. The plan is a “20-year vision” for the airport and assesses all aspects of airport operations.
• Observed a moment of silence in remembrance of employee Peter C. Payavis, 63, of Pringle, who died Monday. Payavis served as superintendent of the airport, where he was employed for 41 years.
Eve Hennigan, executive assistant at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, shows a picture of her son, Tommy, 31, who has autism. Hennigan reported to the Bi-County Airport Board about a new program, Wings for All, that acquaints people with disabilities with all aspects of flying.
A jet is seen taking off from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Airport earlier this year.