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C&S Wholesale Grocers Is at the Heart of Business Aviation

Business aircraft provide the speed, flexibility, efficiency and productivity that companies need to compete in today's competitive global marketplace. However, despite the breakneck pace of business today, many aircraft operators still find time to use their airplanes to help those in need.

One such company is Keene, NH-based C&S Wholesale grocers, one of the largest wholesale food distribution companies in the country. C&S is a member of Corporate Angel Network, Sky Hope Network and AERObridge, through which the company dispatched its Hawker 900XP to Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2010.

From Local to National Distributor

Privately held C&S Wholesale grocers' history dates from 1918, when partners Israel Cohen and Abraham Siegel invested in a warehouse and began delivering foodstuffs to grocery stores in Worcester, MA. The business grew steadily but slowly, surviving the Great Depression.

During World War II Cohen's son Lester, who served as a navigator on a bomber in the Pacific, saw an opportunity to supply military commissaries with groceries.

After the war, Lester Cohen also recognized the emergence of the new "supermarkets" and optimized C&S's wholesale supplier operations to accommodate the new way Americans shopped for food. Starting in 1958, a series of accounts with large supermarket chains propelled C&S to record sales.

Entering Business Aviation Through Charter

C&S's home office is at least an hour-and-a-half drive from Bradley International (BDL) in Hartford, CT and about two hours from Boston Logan (BOS). As airline travel became increasingly difficult for C&S, the company began to charter a Beech King Air in the mid-1990s, and the experience opened management's eyes to the benefits of business aviation. With so many of its customers and vendors also located far from major airports, C&S soon decided to buy its own airplane.

As vice President of Aviation Joe Briggs explained, "As C&S started to grow and charters became more frequent, the company decided to purchase its first aircraft – a new Beechjet 400A – in 1997." At first, TAg Aviation handled the airplane, but management of the aircraft was brought in-house in 2004, the same year that C&S was cited by Forbes magazine as the tenth largest privately held company in America.

The company expanded into the Southeast in 2005, acquiring facilities in Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina, having already stretched westward to California. By 2006, sales topped $20 billion and C&S was named "grocery Distributor of the Year."

Expanding Business, Adding Aircraft

C&S Chairman of the Board and CEO Rick 
Cohen and his daughter Perry Cohen, vice president of corporate learning, at one of the company's warehouses.To keep up with demand for air travel, the flight department also expanded, adding a Hawker 850XP in 2006 and a 900XP in 2010. C&S also built a company hangar and fuel farm at Dillant Hopkins Airport (EEN), located near the company's headquarters.

For the past six years, flight time has mushroomed an average of 20 percent annually. Most missions involve transporting employees and clients throughout the u.s., with occasional international trips.

Briggs said, "C&S has multiple arehouses and customers located in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and on the West Coast. We also have independent warehouse affiliations throughout the U.S. We fly into several locations that are not easily supported by airline service, allowing face-to-face meetings with customers and employees."

Briggs's staff includes seven dualqualified captains, three first officers, three maintenance technicians, a maintenance manager and two schedulers led by a licensed dispatcher. The department will carry 4,060 passengers during the current fiscal year.

Briggs said, "We have done some extraordinary missions, such as Spain in one day, prepositioning flightcrew to make the return legs." The flight department also has flown several board members to Keene for a day-and-a-half meeting, "all arriving and departing at the same time," noted Briggs. "Then there's the 5:45 a.m. call to move executives to a warehouse where there has been a fire, tropical storm damage, power outages, etc. We can depart within two hours of such calls, allowing the executive or employee to solve the issue and be back to headquarters as soon as the mission is completed."

A Commitment to Safety, Community Involvement

C&S's Aviation Services' commitment to safety includes establishing a safety management system in 2006, achieving IS-BAO (International standard for Business Aircraft Operations) registration, and having an in-house safety committee, an assigned training officer, safety officer and security officer. Pilots average 20 years' experience and 13,000 hours of flight time. The staff regularly attends educational programs such as safety standdowns, emergency and international procedures training, as well as numerous business seminars and other training programs.

C& has been an NBAA Member since 1997, and pilots participate in regional aviation roundtables. Eve Gregory, C&S senior dispatcher, serves on the NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Committee and its Scholarship Subcommittee. Members of the C&S aviation team also participate in an airport advisory committee at their home airport, and work with the city's Chamber of Commerce airport group. Briggs also said the company supports educational outreach and provides internships for students interested in aviation careers.

Humanitarian Flying Important

C&S has been involved in humanitarian flying for years, and one recent mission of mercy involved transporting a toddler needing specialized cancer treatments.

At the age of five months, Aiden Lipscomb was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pediatric cancer. Although the disease is serious, there is good reason to be optimistic for his recovery, thanks to a new treatment.

Doctors at Aiden's local hospital in Northern Virginia recognized that Aiden was a good candidate for a pioneering form of proton radiation treatment, but such treatments are available only at a few medical facilities. For Aiden, the closest is Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Because his immune system is weakened by aggressive chemotherapy, Aiden is vulnerable to infection from other passengers, leaving him unable to travel on the airlines. Aiden's family turned to Sky Hope Network for help.

C&S was among several companies that responded to Sky Hope's call for an available business airplane that could be used to transport Aiden for treatment. Briggs' request to dispatch the company's Hawker 850XP to bring Aiden home after his six weeks of treatment in Boston was approved by C&S's HR department "within minutes," he said.

"Copilot Nathan Jacobs and I left Keene at about noon on Friday, August 12, picked Aiden up at 3:00 in Boston and arrived at Dulles at about 4:15," said Briggs. "He was a little tired from his morning treatments, but excited to be flying with us. He's quite a little guy."

Briggs feels that companies and pilots who fly such missions get as much out of it as the patients they carry. "For us, flying is pretty routine, but these missions are special. We are gratified that what we do day-to-day can be a small part of making things easier for these folks."

For More Information

Learn more about how to get involved with humanitarian efforts at www.sky-hope.org, www.corpangelnetwork.org or www.aerobridge.org.

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