Fagen fuels future growth with fleet of 3 Citations

Minnesota company's XLS and 2 CJs expand biofuel, clean energy business.

By Jay Selman
Contributing Writer

(L-R) Dir of Maintenance Jason Dunn, CEO Ron Fagen, Chief Pilot Rob Ator. Ron Fagen's P51D Mustang sits behind one of the company's CitationJets and the Citation XLS at GDB.

In 1974, Ron Fagen returned to his native Minnesota after a stint in Vietnam, having accumulated experience in construction courtesy of the US Army. He immediately started a construction business with a single pickup truck and a 4-man crew.

Over the years, he seized several opportunities to expand his business, specializing in heavy industrial construction. Today, the company that bears his name-and of which he is CEO-is the 30th largest contractor in the US, and the 68th largest in the world.

While the company takes on many different types of industrial construction projects, Fagen is the largest green energy design-builder in the US, specializing in building ethanol plants and wind farms. The company employs approximately 2500 people, including 300 at its home office in Granite Falls MN (pop 2890 as of Jul 2007).

Granite Falls is approximately 100 miles from Minneapolis MN, far off the beaten path. By necessity, most ethanol plants are constructed where corn is grown, again often far from major population centers. If ever there were justification for a corporate flight department, Fagen can claim it as a necessity.

Only a Citation will do

Rob Ator, manager of flight ops, says, "Our missions can take us to some airports not easily reached, such as CCY (Charles City IA), CXU (Camilla GA) MZZ (Marion IN) and UCY (Union City TN)." He notes that flying commercial to these airports from GDB (Granite Falls MN) isn't even an option.

"You'd have to start out with a 2 1/2-hr drive to the nearest commercial airport-MSP (Minneapolis-St Paul MN)," he says. "Even with Northwest having a major hub at MSP, you still can't get there from here.

Our company airplanes are the only way we can do business in cities like these on a 1-day trip." Fagen's flight department consists of 2 Cessna CitationJets and a Citation XLS. In addition, the company uses a Beech Baron 58 and a Bonanza A36 for shorter hops.

Ator says, "GDB has a 4350-ft runway, and some of the airports we visit regularly have even shorter runways. A straight-wing Citation is really the only jet that will serve our needs. Our 525s are the real workhorses of the fleet, with at least one flight generally scheduled each day.

The CJ can fly in and out of small airports that really won't handle any other jet, and can comfortably carry 3 or 4 people up to 600 miles. Currently, we have contracts for 28 different construction sites, many of which are within range of the CJs, so they stay busy."

Beyond 600 miles, or for missions with a larger passenger load, Fagen uses a 2005-model Citation XLS. Ator notes, "The XLS also operates comfortably out of GDB with a relatively full load.

Of course, the XLS is a 2-pilot airplane, and we prefer to fly the CJs with 2 pilots as well, although sometimes payload, economics, or operational requirements dictate single-pilot operation.

Altogether, we log an average of 2000 hrs of flying per year. We have 4 pilots, including me, on the roster, and we are all checked out on all aircraft."

Specialized flying

Fagen's Citations are equipped with GPS and long-range TCAS equipment. Ator says, "Most of our flying is into uncontrolled airports, so TCAS is invaluable. We also do a lot of talking on Unicom.

We're currently in the process of applying for IS-BAO [Intl Standards for Business Aircraft Operations] certification." IS-BAO is Ator says that Fagen is about a third of the way through the lengthy process leading to compliance with this code of best practices, which is based on ICAO-developed standards designed to help business aviation achieve high levels of safety and professionalism.

Fagen is erecting 33 turbines in Woodstock MN. The company carries out everything from road construction to full erection of turbine towers, nacelles and rotors.

GDB is a small-town airport whose manager works for the City of Granite Falls. Weather can often be an issue. Ator says the airport manager is responsive to Fagen's needs and does her best to stay on top of things when snow threatens.

He adds, "Destination airport conditions are a greater concern for us than at our home field. We pay close attention to Notams, and if we need to delay a flight in order to confirm destination field conditions, we don't hesitate to do so.

When field conditions at GDB threaten our return flight, we can also use MML (Marshall MN), 20 miles down the road, as our alternate. In fact, we keep a company vehicle based at MML for just this purpose." Around 60% of Fagen's flights are prescheduled, which makes life a bit easier on Ator.

Corporate policy dictates that all travel requests come to him through the various department heads. While Ator does not have direct veto power over trip requests, other than for safety considerations, he does reserve the right to run requests through Ron Fagen, COO Aaron Fagen or Exec VP Evan Fagen.

A 100-million-gallon/year ethanol plant in Albert City IA. Fagen has been involved in the design and construction of more than 75 ethanol plants.

Currently, Ator is responsible for dispatching each and every flight. As he notes, "Ron, Aaron and Evan all understand that nobody likes getting a call in the middle of the night to announce a flight before sunrise, so they all try very hard to avoid doing that."

Ator says that he is extremely happy with the Fagen fleet, and that Cessna works closely with him to address most maintenance events, such as hot section inspections and engine overhauls. He says, "We are currently considering upgrades to our avionics package as well as interiors.

We have been pleased with support from the authorized Cessna service centers at Milwaukee and also from Duncan. For the most part, we have also enjoyed excellent tech support directly from Cessna."

A suitable alternative

Being a success in any field is much more likely if one has a passion. Ron Fagen obviously has a couple of passions, one of which is the topic of green energy. Fagen is the world's largest builder of ethanol plants and wind farms. While this represents a business to CEO Ron Fagen, it is also a cause.


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