Stacy Wilson, vice president of Wilson Construction, grew up in the electric utility construction business. Her grandfather, Matt O. Wilson, started building power lines in 1952 to connect farms in rural Oregon and Washington to the electrical grid. Stacy’s father and current Wilson Construction president, Don Wilson, joined the company in 1974. Early in his career, after driving 60,000 miles throughout Oregon and Washington in one year, he joked that he was not going to have a home life if he kept driving for business. So he decided to do what any smart problem-solver would do – he got his pilot’s license.
Stacy was raised flying in airplanes piloted by Don and helping out around the office. So it should be no surprise that Stacy, too, is now a pilot at Wilson Construction, which has expanded beyond the Pacific Northwest over the past half-century and into one of the largest privately held utility construction companies in the nation, by using innovative construction solutions made possible by a fleet of fixed-wing aircraft.
“The company really started to expand to different geographic areas and into different projects once my dad took over,” Stacy said. “He would tell you that every time he bought a bigger airplane, our customer base could expand more and more.”
Now, Wilson Construction owns three fixed-wing aircraft, including two Beechcraft King Airs, that fly 700-800 hours each year to make visits to jobsites that are often remote, transport management to customer meetings, position lineman crews and support the company’s in-house helicopter division.
Wilson’s business model
Wilson Construction, headquartered in Canby, Oregon, south of Portland, performs all facets of electric distribution and transmission construction projects. The company specializes in overhead and underground power line construction, substation and foundation construction, and helicopter and environmental services. In addition to overseeing nationwide operations as company executives, Don and Stacy remain directly involved with the fixed-wing flight division.
Stacy said Wilson Construction stands apart from competitors in several ways: there are very few utility construction companies remaining that are family owned, they offer helicopter-aided construction and have operated their own rotary-wing fleet since 2004, and they’ve used business aviation since the 1970s.
“We can be very nimble, flexible and react to customer needs,” Stacy said.
The tools that set Wilson Construction apart mean customers can expect timely completion on even the most complex projects. With the use of business aircraft, they’ve been able to bid and win jobs outside the Pacific Northwest. Wilson Construction employs more than 600 people across the United States and has regional offices in Washington, California, Arizona, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Using business aircraft may have started at Wilson Construction as a way to get from point A to point B quicker, but the uses and benefits quickly multiplied. Today, the company has a full-fledged flight department.
“The Wilson flight department is pretty self-sufficient,” said Mike Hughes, chief pilot. “We have three full-time pilots in addition to Don and Stacy. Most of our maintenance is done in-house using our own maintenance department. Almost all of our flights are conducted single-pilot under Part 91 flight rules.”
There are scheduled customer meetings from coast-to-coast or routine site visits; there are also emergency trips. For example, there are times when entire crews need to move quickly from state to state to repair storm damage or respond to other power emergencies.
“My dad or I can be on the plane and sitting in front of the customer in just a couple of hours,” Stacy said. “Our airplanes can get us quickly to a jobsite or to a customer’s office, and they can get our linemen repositioned for emergency work situations.”
The fleet is based at Aurora State Airport (KUAO) and includes a 2010 Challenger 300, a 2007 King Air 350 and a 2008 King Air C90GTi. King Air Model 90s found their way into the Wilson Construction fleet early on, because so much of the company’s work is located in remote locations. Don did the majority of the flying for the company until 2007, when Wilson Construction hired its first fixed-wing professional pilot. Don still flies both the King Airs and Stacy flies the C90GTi.
“The King Airs are perfect at getting us into and out of these smaller airports quickly, efficiently and safely,” Hughes said. “There really isn’t another airplane out there that matches the capabilities of these airplanes.”
The busiest aircraft in the fleet is the King Air 350, which averages about 350 hours per year and has 2,200 total hours. It was pre-owned and came with Raisbeck Wing Lockers and Dual Aft Body Strakes.
“It’s pretty hard to find an airplane like the 350 in which you can fill all the seats, fill the cargo compartment and still haul plenty of fuel to get to your destination,” Hughes said.
Wilson Construction added Raisbeck Crown Wing Lockers, Quiet Turbo Fan Propellers and Dual Aft Body Strakes to the King Air C90GTi, which the company flies about 250 hours per year.
“The 90 is excellent for short to mid-range trips,” Hughes said. “It can take us into small airports with limited services very efficiently.”
Hughes said the pilots love the diversity of the flights, because every mission presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities to learn.
“Our Flight Department is a tight-knit group of professionals,” Hughes said. “We all love what we do and enjoy working together. The culture of the department closely matches the company as a whole in that we are not limited by our titles. If there is a need for maintenance, we all help in that capacity. It’s not uncommon to find a pilot, mechanic and the hangar manager working shoulder-to-shoulder to get an airplane washed and prepped for a flight.”