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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Business soaring for Rochester aviation company

Business soaring for Rochester aviation company

Since as far back as he can remember, Nick Fancher has had a passion for flying.

“When I was about five,” Nick recalls, “I flew in the backseat of a Cessna 172 with my cousin and thought, ‘this is really cool stuff.’”

Nick went on to get his pilot’s license in 1991, but soon his career put him on a new path.

He spent decades in sales and marketing, traveling the country and learning from some of the best in business, including Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, whom he worked with while they were starting their first two Home Depot stores.

Now, years later, Nick is combining his experience in business with his zeal for the air.

In April 2017, Nick started Great Planes Aviation. Located out by Rochester International Airport, the company provides flight school training as well as aircraft maintenance.

“It’s kind of a hobby,” he explains, “but we do it for a living and it’s awesome.”

In just 18 months, Nick’s business has begun to soar. What started as one plane has become three as enrollment for the flight school continues to exceed expectations.

“We originally bought one airplane and said, ‘let’s just put it out here; we’re going to test this theory,’ We were hoping to fly 100 hours in the first year. We ended up flying 330.”

Nick and his team — which also includes Scott Koon, Jim Perry and Isaac Deters — are now working with more than two dozen flight students, ranging from high schoolers to retired professionals. Many of the students, Nick says, are now flying on their own.

“To see a doctor or a high school student come out and to do this first 10-12 hours of training, to see them be cut loose and soloed for the first time; it’s pretty fun to watch them to do that,” says Nick. “You can talk to any pilot, and they will vividly remember their first solo — the excitement and the fear rolled into one.”

As the flight school has taken off, Great Planes Aviation has been able to spread its wings and offer even more services. Nick and his crew now have mechanics on call 24/7/365 to assist with the maintenance of both commercial and private jets.

For local passengers, that means fewer disruptions and greater reliability.

“Oftentimes something very minor will happen with an aircraft, but they need a mechanic to go look at it,” explains Nick. “Without maintenance here on the field, these operators were calling on their home office. And so mechanics were coming from other regional airports, and by that time, the disruption was very significant for travelers and for the operators themselves.”

Moving forward, Nick says he plans to continue finding ways to support the airport’s growth. Year-to-year, the number of passengers at RST has doubled as United, Delta and American continue to increase flight service and frequency.

“We came in with a very open mind and aggressive stance toward helping to grow business and support the initiatives the airport has in place,” explains Nick.

“This airport is really critical to the vitality of the community.”

Post published in partnership with Rochester International Airport

Photography by William Forsman

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