Oregon, Jim Rankin has a strong passion for what he does every day. Rankin comes from an extensive, 25-year background in the airline industry and finds the change to the rotary wing industry exciting.

A Roads Much Traveled

Rankin ventured into aviation when he was studying business as an undergraduate at Carroll College, a small liberal arts school in the State of Wisconsin. In his senior year at Carroll, IBM hired him to work full-time in the summer and part-time during the school year. While finishing college and working for IBM, Rankin began taking flying lessons and received his pilot’s license the day after he graduated from college. That set the path for where his career would eventually take him.

“I stayed at IBM for a time but really fell in love with flying, so I ended up leaving about six months later and going to flight school full-time earning my commercial, instrument, and CFI licenses, and then started instructing.” Not long after, Rankin landed his first airline job where he flew Beechcraft 1900s for Skyway Airlines, and eventually became Chief Pilot and Director of Operations.

Rankin accepted a pilot position with Skyway’s parent company, Midwest Express Airlines, and flew to many East Coast cities like Boston, New York, Washington, Orlando, and Atlanta, and some West Coast destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. After upgrading to Captain on the MD-80, he learned that Skyway, the Midwest subsidiary airline he initially started his flying career with, was looking for a president, “They asked me if I would go over there on an interim basis while they began a search for a new president,”

Rankin recalls. “After about six months, they asked if I wanted to take the president’s position full-time. I had found that I really enjoyed the business aspects of aviation, so I gladly agreed. Since I had made captain on the MD-80s, I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to do on the flying side and I saw a new and interesting career direction managing airlines. Having a more normal schedule was also appealing as my wife and I were just starting our family.” It was at this juncture in his career that Rankin went back to graduate school and received his MBA – 10 years after he’d started as a first officer on the Beech 1900.

In 2006, he joined Air Wisconsin Airlines, an American Eagle carrier, as CEO. Air Wisconsin started as a branded airline in the 60s, but it transitioned into a fee-for- departure airline. ”When I came onboard, they were flying for U.S. Airways, and after U.S. Airways merged with American, we became an American Eagle carrier flying roughly 500 flights a day mostly on the East Coast. I stayed there from 2006 until I came to Columbia Helicopters in 2014.”

Why Columbia Helicopters?

When we asked Rankin what was interesting about joining Columbia Helicopters, he responded, “The airline industry is a great industry. It’s a lot of fun; it’s dynamic, but I was really looking for a business that served more industries and had an international component to it.”

And what’s nice about Columbia

s President and CEO for Columbia Helicopters, an aircraft manufacturing and operator company based in Aurora,

Helicopters? “We’re involved in many different industry sectors, which I find really fascinating - we’re in Papua, New Guinea (PNG), Afghanistan, Canada, Alaska, and firefighting in the lower U.S.”

“I would say it’s dynamic!”

In comparing his Columbia Helicopters’ experience with the airline industry, Rankin’s response

is enlightening, “I would say

it’s dynamic! It seems like nothing stays the same for more than a week. What we do at Columbia is faster-paced because we’re working with companies in different segments. For instance, our oil and gas segment has been on a roller coaster ride recently following the price of crude oil. Our military and government services work has been extremely strong. We are moving and reacting to many different markets, which I find absolutely fascinating and very rewarding from a business perspective. I enjoy it.”


Jim is well aware that diversification is beneficial and key to success in the industry. “We’re diversified in industry segments and duration of operating contracts, as well. For example, oil and gas and government services contracts are generally long-term, whereas logging contracts can be short- term. Having both types of contracts allows us to optimally manage our fleet.”

Rankin says, “Helicopter operations are capital-intensive. You have a huge investment and the last thing you want to do is have an aircraft sitting on the ground. You want to make sure that you have opportunities where you can move assets around to keep them flying. The cost effective way to run any aviation business is to run it safely and with very little operational disruption.”

With their most recent purchase of three Chinook 234s and eleven Chinook CH- 47Ds, Columbia Helicopters will have a lot more flexibility to meet diverse opportunities. “We have a number of helicopters in our Chinook and 107 fleets that we can put into action quickly. For many years, we had to pass on opportunities because we simply


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