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Business Airplanes Help Renewable Energy Business Grow

Ron Fagen knows the value of business aircraft. The president and CEO of Fagen, Inc. – one of the country's most respected green-energy builders – would not have grown from humble beginnings in Granite Falls, MN to become a leader in industrial construction without its airplanes.

"I started this company with a pickup truck and a five-man crew," says Fagen. "If I didn't have the airplanes I've flown over the years, I would probably have just a 12-man crew and two trucks. As it is, we have more than 1,700 employees across the country and are at the top of our industry in no small part because of our airplanes."

Fagen founded the company in 1974, and its first ethanol plant was built in 1988. Today, the firm is involved in the construction of wind farms and numerous green-energy projects throughout the United States.

The ethanol plants bearing the Fagen company logo dot the landscape of rural America. Ron Fagen explains the plants have to be located in rural areas, because that's where the corn is grown. That's also the reason it's virtually impossible for the company to rely exclusively on airline travel for moving teams of people and equipment expeditiously.

Fagen's airplanes are indispensible in helping employees reach projects in towns like Pearsall, TX, which is about 60 miles south of San Antonio, and Marion, IL, which is about 120 miles away from St. Louis. The aircraft serve as time machines that enable teams of managers, engineers and other staff to visit multiple sites in a single day and reach clients as quickly as possible.

"When I started flying to meet clients, I saw the immediate benefits of using airplanes for business. There was no way to expand our business without using business aircraft," recalls Fagen. "Even if we lived in a major metropolitan area, we'd still have to move fast, keep ahead of the competition and visit multiple sites every week – sometimes in the same day."

Aircraft Help Keep Fagen's People Moving

Rob Ator, Fagen's flight department manager and chief pilot, says the department has grown along with the company. The company started out with a Beech King Air turboprop and Cessna Citation SII light jet.

Today, Fagen operates a Citation Jet CJ1 because the aircraft is well suited to landing on shorter fields, yet it can reach destinations less than 400 miles away with three or four employees on board. When Fagen needs to travel to a site that is farther away or needs to transport six employees, the company uses its second airplane, a Citation XLS.

Ator says the missions flown by the two airplanes have become ever more important in supporting the company in a challenging economy.

"We have 1,750 employees right now, so it's a task to keep people moving," Ator says. "We fly a lot on the airlines," Ator continues, noting that by sending Fagen employees on the carriers with everything they need for a meeting, the company can usually have one meeting with one client a week.

"But if we have a team of people that needs to get to several different projects in different states and are staying for a short period of time, then our airplanes are the only things that make sense," Ator says. "Our folks can come back from client meetings that night, get refreshed and head back out the next day."

Having access to business aircraft also means that more jobs can stay in the company's Granite Falls, MN location, because employees don't need to relocate to wherever its ethanol plants or other green-energy projects are being built.

NBAA Helps Fagen, Industry Achieve Goals

Ron Fagen says that belonging to NBAA helps enable his company to use its aircraft efficiently and successfully.

For example, the company's pilots take advantage of NBAA's Regional Forums – one of which was recently held in St. Paul, MN – and training sessions to stay up-to-speed on safety management systems and the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO).

"We need to stay up on IS-BAO, because it represents the industry standard for business aviation operations around the world," adds Ator. "As we grow our business outside the United States, the best way to reach potential clients outside our country is to fly ourselves and meet them face-to-face."

Preserving business aviation access to airports across the country and educating lawmakers on Capitol Hill are two more reasons why Fagen is proud to be an NBAA Member Company.

"NBAA really is our voice in Washington, DC, and I'm not sure our industry would be the same if the Association wasn't working hard to fight our battles on Capitol Hill," Ator says.