NASHUA — After 22 years at the helm of the Nashua Municipal Airport, Royce Rankin says his most challenging feat occurred in the past year.
As Rankin prepares to retire from his position as the airport's director, he reflected on the past two decades with few regrets, saying it will be an emotional farewell to a job he has been lucky to hold.
"The thought of losing the control tower that I helped to open in 1988 was probably the hardest thing I encountered during this job," Rankin said on Thursday, the day before he packs his last box and says goodbye. "That was an unbelievable challenge this past year, and very difficult — even physically hard on me. Knowing that with the stroke of a pen we could lose that tower, it was overwhelming."
Fortunately, Rankin said the tower has been saved at least for a while, thanks to the passing of the Reducing Flight Delays Act at the end of April. Congress passed without stipulation that 149 federally funded control towers, including the Nashua Municipal Airport tower, remain open.
Other obstacles have presented themselves as challenges for the airport, including the previous closure of the Daniel Webster College aviation program.
"That was a downturn for the airport because, of course, there is less activity. Still, we have four flight schools and a helicopter school to keep us busy," he added.
Rankin, who has served as the airport director for 22 years and worked at the facility for 25, says he is optimistic that the airport has a bright future ahead of it. Rankin, of Londonderry, retired from the military and later graduated from Daniel Webster College at the age of 47.
He describes himself as a lucky man who had the opportunity to work for a great organization with phenomenal employees and a strong work ethic.
"I came to work today and I looked out at the airport and I realized that I have been very fortunate," said Rankin, now 67.
In addition to opening the air traffic control tower at the start of his airport career, Rankin most recently spearheaded the construction of a new runway.
"I really wanted to be a part of that, which was my motivation to stick around," said Rankin. "Now that the runway is built and open, I feel it is time to move on and do something else. That was a major accomplishment, and it is always good to leave on a high note. This was an outstanding career — a real dream come true for me."
The new, $16 million runway project was actually in jeopardy during the 2011 temporary shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. The project at Boire Field, the busiest general aviation airport in New England, included a 6,000-foot runway.
There are more than 360 planes based at the city's airport, and nearly 70,000 planes take off and land at the airport each year.
For the past five weeks, Rankin has been working with his successor, Stephen Bourque, to help him transition smoothly into the head role.
Bourque was the previous on-site airport manager at Skyhaven Airport in Rochester, and also the former airport security coordinator at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth. Bourque graduated from Daniel Webster College, where he initially started out in the pilot program and eventually converted to aviation management.
"He has a lot of experience in general aviation. Steve is a very capable, young new manager. I am excited about him taking over," said Rankin.
Rankin is hopeful the airport will continue to thrive while pursuing additional corporate jet activity. There are 17 jets housed at the airport, although at one time there were 22.
"We have hangar accommodations for about 25 jet aircraft, so hopefully those will get filled in order to boost revenues," added Rankin.
In the meantime, Rankin plans to enjoy about six weeks of retirement at a lake home in Maine before possibly taking on some consulting work this fall.