Horizon Helicopters is taking off.
When Cole Hodinski started the company three and a half years ago he had only one helicopter and a rented plot of land.
“I just landed there and started working,” said Hodinski, gesturing to a cement pad outside of the hanger. There was no fence, nothing – it wasn’t even plowed.
In fact, he didn’t even know the pad was there until the snow melted in the spring.
“It was an unexpected blessing,” he said.
The first few years “were pretty lean,” but, as the Yukon economy grew, so did the fortunes of the company.
Hodinski now has five helicopters and eight employees.
This month he was named Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Yukon’s Business Development Bank.
While the territorial mining boom has been “very good timing,” for his business, Hodinski attributes much of his success to the team he has working with him.
“A lot of the recognition should be given to my employees,” he said. “I got a really good group of people that I work with.”
Growing up on a ranch in rural Alberta, Hodinski always loved helicopters.
“I used to think they were unique and intriguing, the ultimate piece of machinery,” he said. “I still feel that way.
When he was 18, he bought an experimental helicopter that he rebuilt himself.
He learned to fly on that machine.
When he sold it, he used the money to get his commercial licence.
His tenacity impressed a local helicopter operator.
“The guy told me if I ever got my commercial licence to come to him and he’d hire me.”
The man was true to his word,
“I drove to where the helicopters were and he sent me out hauling fuel the very next day I had my license.”
Hodinski’s career has taken him across the country and around the world.
A few years ago he came to the Yukon with his wife to paddle some rivers and they both fell in love with the place.
He found work as a relief pilot working for several different companies.
Many of his jobs only needed the capacity for a couple of passengers, and Hodinski realized that there was a market for smaller helicopters.
He bought a R44 Robinson helicopter, rented a plot of land near the airport and Horizon Helicopters was born.
Hodinski’s company was the only one in the Yukon operating that type of aircraft, which is cheaper to fly and maintain, but doesn’t carry as much stuff.
It proved both the biggest challenge and his company’s “saving grace.”
“Basically you have to convince clients that are used to using one type of aircraft and one company to switch to a new company with a totally different aircraft,” he said. “In one way, it is a huge hurdle to overcome, but the flip side to that coin is that’s what has allowed us to keep operating and make a go of it.”
His gamble paid off.
With lower operating and maintenance costs he was able to carve out a niche for himself.
His fleet has expanded to include larger helicopters that are common in the territory.
But with the purchase of his latest aircraft, Hodinski is once again offering something Yukon hasn’t seen before.
In a few weeks he’s going down to Arizona and flying back with a MD900 Explorer.
“It’s going to be the only twin-engine helicopter in the Yukon,” he said. “And it’s going to be the only MD900 Explorer in the nation.”
While his business is successful, Hodinski has paid a price.
“It seems I do a lot of paperwork nowadays.”
Contact Josh Kerr at