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CEO Rieder leaving Erickson March 31

Udo Rieder, who has led Erickson from a heavy-lift helicopter firm to a far broader aviation enterprise, will leave the company March 31.

Jeff Roberts will assume the role of president and CEO April 1.

Rieder joined what was then known as Erickson Aircrane, based in Central Point, in 2008. During his tenure the company went through a major transformation. It moved its headquarters to Portland in 2009; acquired aviation firms in the Willamette Valley and South America, allowing the company to expand into additional aviation lines, including some fixed-wing aircraft; moved from a closely held firm to a publicly traded enterprise in 2012; and dropped Aircrane from its name in 2013.

All the changes, however, have been overshadowed by Erickson's debt struggles and battered stock prices. Shares that hit an apex of $28.10 in May of 2013 haven't topped $10 since the beginning of December 2014 and dropped as low as $6.15 last week.

In February, Erickson laid off 150 employees, most of the job losses coming in Jackson County.

During a conference call discussing fourth-quarter earnings in February, Rieder said the company continued to suffer from declining military contracts, plunging oil prices that have reduced exploration efforts, and fire-season needs below historical norms. The company is also coping with long-term debt of $371.9 million, although its officers told analysts last month they wouldn't need to seek additional loans.

“I have decided that after seven years as president and CEO of Erickson, through an (initial public offering), several financings and two transformative transactions, I should make room for the next generation of leaders,” Rieder said in a statement Tuesday.

“It seemed appropriate to announce my retirement from the company at the start of Helicopter Association International (in Tampa, Fla.), the leading industry event where Erickson has been a fixture for many years. We have built a global market leader in the aviation services segment, and I believe the company is poised for significant growth for years to come. I am immensely proud of all the employees at the company, their achievements and applaud their dedication to Erickson. I will always bleed orange.”

Erickson, founded in 1971, carved out its niche in aerial logging. Today its fleet includes 86 light, medium and heavy helicopters and  fixed-wing aircraft, including 20 heavy-lift S-64 Skycranes. When Erickson moved its headquarters from Willow Springs Road near Central Point, Rieder said it was imperative in order to attract the corporate talent needed to grow the company.

“We are extremely grateful to Udo for his many contributions to Erickson over the past years," Chairman Quinn Morgan said in a statement. "He has assembled a world-class team. His counsel and guidance transformed the company from a small service provider into a leading global aviation services company. His initiatives have established a solid foundation for Erickson’s future, and we are excited about the growth for the company."

Roberts was group president at CAE, best known for its modeling, simulation and training for civil aviation and defense. He was previously president and CEO of SimuFlite Training International, a pilot flight-simulation training firm owned by GE Capital.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Erickson CEO Udo Rieder