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"From crop duster to corporate pilot"



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

 

From crop duster to corporate pilot
'It's not like work at all'

http://cmsimg.coloradoan.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=G2&Date=20080414&Category=BUSINESS&ArtNo=804140301&Ref=AR&MaxW=290 http://cmsimg.coloradoan.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=G2&Date=20080414&Category=BUSINESS&ArtNo=804140301&Ref=V2&MaxW=290

Craig Fitzsimmons, a corporate pilot with Water Valley, stands in front  The interior of Martin Lind's KingAir turboprop sports luxury as it takes

of the new KingAir turboprop recently purchased by Water Valley          its corporate passengers to business sites.

president Martin Lind and two partners.

 

When Water Valley president Martin Lind needs to get from here to there, he calls on his team of pilots to gas up the KingAir turboprop hangared at Fort Collins/Loveland Airport and hit the skies.

The KingAir can leave Windsor in the morning, be on the West Coast within hours and have its passengers home by dinnertime.


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No long security lines, no wasted time waiting at the airport and an easy drive home after a long day at their office in the sky.

It's an increasingly popular way for corporate executives to take care of business.

The National Business Aviation Association, a nonprofit group that "represents companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient," has 8,000 members, according to its Web site, www.nbaa.org.

Several times a month, you'll find Craig Fitzsimmons, a 47-year-old former crop duster, at the controls of the nine-seat luxury aircraft Lind owns with two partners.

It's a familiar place for Fitzsimmons, who's been flying since he was a teenager growing up on a farm in Windsor.

With rural roots and an interest in flying, Fitzsimmons naturally gravitated toward crop dusting and an undergraduate program at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, now Colorado State University-Pueblo.

Two years into his crop-dusting studies, USC dropped the program.

Fitzsimmons finished his degree in biology but never lost interest in flying.

He'd regularly fly home on the weekends "to get in my hours." Talk about a way to impress your friends.

After college, Fitzsimmons hired on with a crop-dusting company in Greeley, spraying area crops from April through September.

At the end of the crop-dusting season, Fitzsimmons continued working on his instructor and multiengine ratings. So, when ConAgra Foods needed a corporate pilot, Fitzsimmons stood ready.

"I got into flying because I thought it would be neat to learn how to fly," said Fitzsimmons, who also spearheads Lind's airpark proposal adjacent to the Fort Collins/Loveland Airport.

For the next 20 years, Fitzsimmons was on call 24/7 ready to fly ConAgra execs wherever they needed to go on aircraft ranging from Citations to Leer jets to a Falcon 50, with a 3,000-mile flight range.

When ConAgra Foods wanted to move Fitzsimmons from California to Omaha, Neb., Fitzsimmons decided instead to come home and hook up with his old friend Lind, a buddy from high school with whom he had stayed in touch.

Now he's one of three pilots who shuttle Lind or Water Valley executives around the country.

Fitzsimmons is now one of only a few dozen pilots in the U.S. who are certified aviation managers, a program developed in 2003 by the National Business Aviation Association for people interested in managing a flight department.

It's a rigorous program that took Fitzsimmons 10 years to achieve but which certifies he is qualified to manage every aspect of a flight department, from managing a hangar to flight crews.

"It's a very good job," Fitzsimmons said. "It's not like work at all. It has its own challenges, but it's rewarding.

There's a sense of power in knowing that you are the one making the airplane go where it needs to go, said Fitzsimmons, who hopes to introduce his own children to the joys of flying.

"Some people do it for a living, others fly just for the joy of it," he said.

He flies for both.

"There is a sense of pride knowing that you can make the airplane go from point A to point B that's different than getting in your car.

"It's a challenge to do the best job you can, have fun at it and get places you want to do quicker," Fitzsimmons said.

"After all these years, it's still like Christmas every day."

Who can ask for more than that out of their work?

 

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