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The sky's not the limit: GFK Flight Support provides multitude of services to aviation industry

It's no secret Grand Forks is an aviation mecca, of sorts, with a renowned flight school, Air Force base and one of the busiest commercial airports in the country.

Sean Varian
GFK Flight Support Chief Pilot Sean Varian says in addition to flying, the company provides hangar space for about 35 private airplanes.

It's no secret Grand Forks is an aviation mecca, of sorts, with a renowned flight school, Air Force base and one of the busiest commercial airports in the country.

Grand Forks International Airport's fixed based operator, GFK Flight Support, services all aviation areas at the airport, which chief pilot Sean Varian said fall into four primary areas: fueling, housing, line services and flying.

"GFK Flight Support is very important to the airport because they are the interface with our business community and public, and they service the aircraft that fly in daily," said Patrick Dame, Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority executive director. "Having a first class front door like GFK Flight Support is a great asset to our community."

The surge of oil-related activity in western North Dakota is beginning to fuel increased activity for GFK Flight Support, Varian said.

It is becoming increasingly common for the Grand Forks airport to be used as a layover for private aircraft delivering personnel to the Bakken. With virtually no place to keep planes or flight crews in western North Dakota, many are choosing to come to Grand Forks while waiting to make return flights with their oil executive passengers, Varian said.


And with the increase in local companies providing services out west, GFK Flight Support has begun working to help coordinate private flights.

And flying, Varian said, provides a way to maximize company employee productivity, a factor often left out of travel budgets. "Private aviation may look like a huge expense from the bottom line," he said, "but it's not the bottom line."

Using a trip to Williston, N.D. as an example, he estimated the difference between driving and flying from Grand Forks can be 400 work hours over the span of a year, if a person goes once per week. "The value is what people spend working in that extra time," he said. With a round-trip flight time of about two hours, as opposed to 12 driving hours, the money starts to add up.

And that doesn't factor in the home-life value of when individuals can be home an extra evening or two, he said.

Valley Med Flight, a critical care air ambulance provider, is based in Grand Forks and managed by GFK Flight Support.

The company recently launched www.flybakken.com as a way for individuals to request and coordinate flights.

Here's a look at the primary areas for GFK Flight Support:

• Fueling: GFK Flight Support fuels planes for flights manned by FedEx, Delta, Allegiant, and private aircraft. In addition, the company supplies jet fuel to UND's School of Aerospace Sciences for the pool of aircraft it uses as part of its training program.


• Housing: Private plane owners can lease hangar space from GFK Flight Support. Varian says there are about 35 planes housed in their hangars, in addition to planes the company itself leases and uses for its charter flight services.

• Line services: There's range of services here for both private and commercial planes -- de-icing, towing, washing and maintenance, for example. GFK Flight Support also provides contract services to Allegiant to support ground operations in Grand Forks, including ticketing and baggage services. Delta has its own maintenance crew, but uses GFK Flight Support on an as-needed, emergency basis.

• Flying: An addition to providing charter flights, GFK Flight Support also teaches people to fly. "We haven't tapped the market of people in the area who are interested," he said. "And I would bet there are many others who don't know they're interested because they've never even considered it."

GFK Flight Support opened its revamped terminal facility in 2008. It is a gateway for Grand Forks community for business travelers using private airplanes.

"The first impression GFK Flight Support gives prospective client companies when they travel here sets a positive tone and gives them an accurate impression of the progressive Grand Forks community," said Keith Lund, Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation vice president.

Cooper, Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation's marketing and communications associate, profiles an EDC business member or client company monthly. The EDC provides access to resources to help primary sector business expand or develop in the Grand Forks region. Learn more at www.grandforks.org

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