a personal memoir

Fraissinet family's involvement in shipping and aviation has spanned nearly 2 centuries

By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet

In the late 1960s, before he served as a Learjet distributor, Roland Fraissinet flew his own private aircraft, a British de Havilland DH125.

My friend Roland Fraissinet was a scion of the Fraissinet Shipping Company operating out of Marseilles. His great-grandfather Marc Fraissinet founded the company in 1836. Behind his desk in the Paris office, Roland hung a framed telegram from Ferdinand Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, congratulating the company on a Fraissinet ship being the 3rd vessel to sail through the newly opened canal in 1902. After 150 years in business, the company sold its last ship, the tanker Alfred Fraissinet, and lowered its flag.

Roland always preferred aviation. Jean Fraissinet, his father, was a World War I fighter pilot. Roland himself escaped from France before it was occupied by the Germans and flew with the Royal Air Force for the Allies. In memory of this, he maintained one of the few privately owned Spitfires. And even after leaving the French Air Force as a colonel, he kept on flying Dassault Mirage IV jet fighters as a reserve officer.

Roland Fraissinet, who escaped from France before it was occupied by Germany, flew for the British Royal Air Force during WW II and continued to fly a wide variety of aircraft his entire life.

I first met Roland in 1968 when he purchased Transair, the Beechcraft distributor in Switzerland, and established Air Affaires in Paris to do the same in France. At that
time he flew a British de Havilland DH125 as his personal aircraft.

Later, I approached him with the idea of taking on the Learjet distributorship in his area of Europe. This was long before Beech produced a jet, so there was no conflict of interest in his company becoming a dealer for Learjet. He was interested, but first wanted to know if we could land our jet on the grass runway at his privately owned airport in St Tropez, on the French Riviera.

So in 1971 we flew to St Tropez in a Learjet 24 to fly him to Geneva. St Tropez had a relatively short, unpaved runway facing a hill on one end. Just before touchdown, I heard the tower operator exclaim, "It's jet. It's a jet!" After our landing, they brought out the French champagne to celebrate the first jet landing at this airport.

A Lear 24 like this one was used by Learjet Pilot Tom O'Meara to demonstrate the plane's capability to take off and climb over a mountain with 1 engine powered down. This feat convinced Fraissinet to buy one.

Just before departing for Geneva, Fraissinet announced, "We cannot leave now. The wind has changed and we would have to take off towards the mountain." To which our Demonstration Pilot Tom O'Meara answered, "That's fine, but we're going anyway and you are going to fly it." On breaking ground, Fraissinet asked Tom which way to turn to fly around the mountain.

O'Meara instructed him, "Straight over the mountain." Then, pulling 1 engine back to idle, he added, "And you're going to do it on 1 engine." We climbed over the mountain like a homesick angel with plenty of clearance. Fraissinet turned back to me and said "I must have one of these!"

Out of respect for his time flying Spitfires with the Royal Air Force during WW II, Roland Fraissinet maintained and flew one of the few privately-owned Spitfires.

Following up on this, he asked his legal department to review our purchase contract, which they marked up with many rather insignificant changes. I told Fraissinet, "If I present this to our corporate attorney, he'll make more changes to the changes and we'll never arrive at a contract. But why do we need a contract?

"I tell you the price, and when the aircraft is ready you send your pilot Pierre Allain to Wichita to pick it up. When Allain informs you the aircraft is all right, you wire transfer the money. We're old friends, let's just shake hands on the deal." And Fraissinet said, "That's fine with me." Our accounting department kept bugging me for the contract, but there wasn't one.

In 1979 Roland Fraissinet started a helicopter rescue service, doing much of the rescue flying himself.

On a subsequent purchase of a Learjet 25, Fraissinet asked that we deliver the aircraft to him in Montreal because, being also a Beechcraft dealer, he did not want to come to Wichita and face the ire of Mrs Olive Ann Beech for his also representing Learjet.
Roland's son Marc was also an enthusiastic pilot.

While he attended Wichita State University, I did quite a bit of flying with him as a passenger. He needed to build up more flying time, but as a non-employee he could not get on the Beech insurance list, so I just sat there like a potted plant. Soon afterwards, on a delivery flight of a Beechcraft Baron, he crashed into a mountain at the Azores. Roland's other son Eric is now running Fraissinet Aviation SA in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1979 Fraissinet sold his aircraft operations and started a new helicopter rescue service called Secours Aérien Français at Courchevel, in the French Alps. Flying helicopters was his passion and he himself did much of the rescue flying. On a rescue mission in 1989, his helicopter hit a high tension wire and the resulting crash killed Roland and 3 others.

Alex Kvassay spent 30 years in international business aviation sales, working for both Beech and Learjet, concluding with Management Jets Worldwide, of which he was CEO, based in Paris. His book, "Alex in Wonderland", outlines his life and career. Now 90, his 300 scrapbooks assembled after each of his milestone trips abroad, serve as basis for this series.