Landing in luxury: Fargo Jet Center is on the fly

When Vern and Jan Schultze fly into North Dakota, they put their plane up at Fargo Jet Center. "We come here because we get good service," Vern Schultze said of Fargo Jet Center Wednesday as he checked out his Grumman Cheetah before its flight ho...


When Vern and Jan Schultze fly into North Dakota, they put their plane up at Fargo Jet Center.

"We come here because we get good service," Vern Schultze said of Fargo Jet Center Wednesday as he checked out his Grumman Cheetah before its flight home to Reno, Nev.

The fixed-base operation at Hector International Airport - which offers an array of aviation services - was just named one of the top 30 FBOs in North America.

Aviation International News - a monthly periodical covering the world of aviation - in its May issue ranked Fargo Jet Center 25th among the 250 most-frequented FBOs in North America, Central and South America and Hawaii.

"For us to even make that list is huge, said James Sweeney, president of Fargo Jet Center. You won't find the facilities Fargo Jet Center boasts at any airport of Hector's size, anywhere in the nation, he said.


Fargo's Hector International Airport is in the smallest metropolitan market on the top 30, he noted. The nearest FBO to make the list is Million Air/Regent Aviation, at St. Paul (Minn.) Downtown Airport/Holman Field, which ranked second on the list.

Aviation International News ranks FBOs in four categories, all cited as vital by pilots: line service, or fueling and repair service; passenger amenities; pilot amenities; and facilities, including ramp and hangar service.

Corporate pilots provide input in the rankings, and the Top 30 receive the publication's 2004 Corporate Pilot's Choice Award.

Wilson Air Center in Memphis, Tenn., retained its top ranking for the second consecutive year. Scottsdale (Ariz.) Air Center ranked third.

Fargo Jet Center was founded by James and Patrick Sweeney, Fargo brothers who earned degrees at the University of North Dakota.

Patrick Sweeney got started in the business working for Weather Modification Inc., a cloud-seeding business based in Bowman, N.D. He later bought the assets of the company. James Sweeney joined his brother in the business and in 1993 they began working with Hector International Airport authority officials on plans to create a north ramp, just off Cass County Highway 20 on the north end of the main north-south runway.

The Sweeneys created Fargo Jet Center in 1995. Weather Modification Inc. and Fargo Jet Center became the first tenants on the new ramp when it opened in September of 1995.

"Fargo was a sleeper in aviation at the time," James said.


The Sweeneys about doubled the size of their operation in December 2001 when they acquired the assets of Valley Aviation, a longtime next-door neighbor and competitor.

As a result, they now operate 170,000 square feet of aviation buildings, including four hangars, on Hector's North General Aviation Area.

The business includes Fargo Jet Center, an FBO which refuels, repairs and houses aircraft.

Clay Barton, a captain for a national food distribution company which flies its executives and employees nationwide, was one of Fargo Jet Center's first regular visitors.

The Seattle-based pilot has flown a Gulf Stream, Lear Jet and Citation into and out of Fargo Jet Center many times.

"They do a good job out there," Barton said from Seattle. "They have great young people working the lines.

"I've come in there in some of the foulest conditions and I'm always greeted with a smile and they take great care of me."

All told, from mechanics to line workers to dispatchers, to pilots to rain makers, Fargo Jet Center employs 75 people.


In addition to its general aircraft repair business, which performs work for the airlines which arrive and depart Hector, Fargo Jet Center works on private planes.

Fargo Jet Center's Way-Point Avionics provides repair work for aviation, navigation and radio equipment in the cockpit.

Meanwhile, Weather Modification not only continues to market its systems in North America, but has sold systems and trained pilot groups on the intricacies of weather modification worldwide.

Fargo Jet Center just became the region's only authorized dealership for three lightweight, piston-driven Cessna models.

Fargo Jet Center has pilots under contract and provides charter service. Its pilots fly for North Dakota State University and MeritCare Lifeflight under contract.

More than a dozen privately owned large executive or corporate jets - ranging in price from $700,000 to $5 million - are stored in Fargo Jet Center's largest hangar.

"When we started in 1995, I don't know if there was one corporate jet in Fargo," James Sweeney said.

"We get outstanding service here," said Mike Pawlowski of Big Country Air, a private flight service based out of Fargo Jet Center the last two years.


Fargo Jet Center is home to Flight Academy of Fargo, which trains everyone from aspiring recreational pilots to commercial pilots.

Mike Paulson, chief flight instructor, said the academy has some 100 students in various progress through training.

"We try to encourage all of our employees to fly," James Sweeney said.

Fuel sales account for a big share of the company's revenue stream.

Darren Hall, marketing manager, sells Fargo Jet Service as a fast fuel stop for executive jets making their way cross continent or from California to Europe.

Traveling pilots looking to clear customs have also found Fargo Jet Center to be a relatively hassle-free place to touch down. "Customs clearing has increased by more than 300 percent since we became a U.S. customs airport," Sweeney said. "They can stop here, fuel up, and go nonstop to Europe."

Hector is not only not busy - compared with most metro airports - but its fuel is competitively priced.

"We'd like to see that market grow - 600 to 800 gallons and they're off," he said. "And once they stop, they come back, because they don't expect first-line service the first time they come here."


Fargo Jet Center's fuel service is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Fargo Jet Center is also a favorite stop for pilots of military aircraft. They refuel at a fueling station the company maintains near the North Dakota Air National Guard on Hector's old west ramp.

"We're fortunate to have them here," said Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of Hector International Airport. "For many businesses that come here, they provide the welcome mat. They give a good first impression and a good send-off."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Gerry Gilmour at (701) 241-5560

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