The Port of Portland, Flight Training, and Authoritarian Decree

By Miki Barnes
October 26, 2012

Bill Wyatt, the Executive Director of the Port of Portland (Port), views Hillsboro Aviation's international flight school located at the Hillsboro Airport (HIO) as an "export."[1] It is not entirely clear what Mr. Wyatt believes he is exporting as growing numbers of area residents feel that the flight students, foreign and domestic, are importing noise and toxic pollutants as well as significant safety and security risks. Hillsboro Aviation has trained student pilots from more than 75 countries.[2] Their training activity over homes, neighborhoods and recreational areas, both urban and rural, erodes livability and undermines the ability of established residents to enjoy their property.

The exact numbers of foreign nationals training out of HIO and their countries of origin are difficult to ascertain. The Port maintains that it doesn't track this information, while Hillsboro Aviation claims that as a private company it is not required to release this data. Many, however, are known to be from China. According to Hillsboro Aviation's website, Shanghai Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and Air China have chosen to seek instruction through their company and further notes that the "the CAAC (Chinese government) approved Hillsboro Aviation to conduct both airplane and helicopter training."[3] In addition to the Chinese airlines, the Airline Pilot Association of Taiwan, the Japan Aviation Academy, and Luftfartsskolen School of Aviation in Norway have also chosen Hillsboro Aviation for pilot training.[4] The Portland Community College's taxpayer subsidized Aviation Science program, which includes an international student component, is also a major contributor to the environmental degradation generated by the flight training industry.

Oregon Aviation Watch supports, encourages and appreciates international educational exchange programs that mutually benefit and enrich cultural understanding. Unfortunately, since the adverse impacts of flight instruction far outweigh the benefits, the training of foreign nationals does not fall into this category.

Countries that choose to pursue and expand aviation should willingly shoulder the burden of the negative impacts that accompany this form of transport including the frequent noise intrusions, toxic pollution, serious safety and security risks as well as the cost of building the infrastructure and the resultant property devaluation that typically occurs in the vicinity of an airport.

U.S. residents in general, and Oregon residents in particular, should not be required to fund airport infrastructure projects nor be subjected to the demise of their livability and quality of life on behalf of companies that profit from training foreign and domestic pilots.

Port of Portland Importing Authoritarianism from China

The Port of Portland is fond of extolling the benefits of its relationship to China. Indeed, the Port's commitment to China is so extreme that at the Hillsboro Airport (HIO), the public is now forced to subsidize millions of dollars worth of airport infrastructure, including runways, taxiways, the control tower, air traffic control staff and an array of other high end costs, to train Chinese pilots.

It increasingly appears that one of the primary exports coming out of China is their authoritarian, totalitarian approach to governance, qualities that the Port of Portland (Port), the FAA, and the aviation industry seem to wholeheartedly embrace. The Port's decision to give student pilots free reign to train over our homes and neighborhoods was pursued without a democratic vote of the people and in the absence of meaningful public dialogue. In this regard, the Port simply entered into a business contract with Hillsboro Aviation while ignoring the significant adverse economic, environmental, and livability effects on the community. As a result, the negative impacts are borne by residents who are systematically denied a voice in the process.

Port and China Lack Democratic Governance Structure

The Port of Portland describes itself as a municipal corporation, a government structure on par with cities and counties. Like cities and counties, the Port wields the power to issue bonds, collect taxes, and enact ordinances as well as to condemn land via eminent domain.[5] Where it diverges from the other U.S. municipal entities and more closely resembles China's authoritarian approach to governance is in its complete lack of elected representation. All Port commissioners, the majority of whom have strong ties to prominent corporations, are appointed by the governor.[6] Port commissioners in turn chose Bill Wyatt, the Executive Director, to act as their primary spokesperson.

The governor of Oregon is charged with the task of appointing members to over 220 boards and commissions, yet few, if any, other than Port authorities, rise to municipal corporation status.[7] Imagine the public outcry if the governor decreed his intent to appoint the mayors, city councilors, county commissioners and other municipality representatives without public elections. In all likelihood, he would justifiably be criticized for launching a blatant attack on democracy. Yet this has been the Port's primary mode of operation since its inception.

There is an inherent wisdom to the democratic voting process in that it gives the public a voice in how a municipal organization carries out its responsibilities. Do people in Hillsboro and Washington County want to be subjected to the 0.7 tons of lead spewed into the environment by the Hillsboro Airport each year? Do they want to be exposed to the array of other toxic emissions generated by aviation activities on a daily basis? Do they want to be subjected to the frequent noise intrusions generated by foreign nationals and other users of the Hillsboro Airport? Do they want to sacrifice the right to enjoy their property on behalf of the Port and their aviation business interests? Do they want to compromise national security so that the Port and their private aviation business cronies can garner a profit? These concerns have never been adequately debated because of the failure of the State of Oregon to promote a democratic forum within which to address aviation issues.

China Poses a Threat to National Security

A recent New York Times article reported that China is developing a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile system "increasing its ability to deliver nuclear warheads to the United States and to overwhelm missile defense systems," By way of explanation, Sun Zhe, a professor of international relations from Tsinghua University in Beijing, stated, "We need to be able to defend ourselves, and our main threat, I'm afraid, comes from the United States."[8]

More recently, a 9/28/12 Oregonian article, Obama Blocks Chinese Purchase of Small Oregon Wind Farm Project, reveals that the President is concerned that the covert intentions of the Rall's company, a wind farm business owned by Chinese nationals, may pose a threat to national security. As a result President Obama has taken actions to prevent the Chinese from building wind farms in Boardman in close proximity to a navy base. In retaliation, Rall's, with the endorsement of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, is suing the U.S. on the basis of discrimination.[9]

Given that China is aiming warheads at the U.S. and the President believes that Chinese business interests may pose a threat to national security, why is the Port, in league with the FAA and State of Oregon, forcing U.S. residents to subsidize training Chinese students out of an airport that is lacking in both radar and TSA screening requirements? And why are foreign nationals, many of whom are from China, given free reign to fly wherever, whenever they want with little if any concern for the negative impacts on the community? As a direct result of these ill-advised policies, residents and businesses throughout the region can easily be kept under surveillance by foreign pilots at all times. To add insult to injury, HIO airport infrastructure, including runways and taxiways as well as the air traffic control tower, air traffic controllers and an array of other high end airport expenses, is subsidized by millions of dollars in public funds via the Port of Portland, the State of Oregon and the FAA. In addition, the City of Hillsboro maintains that it is required by state law to restrict the property rights of Washington County residents to accommodate flight training.

There are a host of other issues, in addition to publicly subsidized flight training, that ultimately diminish the environment and livability of Oregon residents while pandering to the insatiable demands of the Chinese government and their American corporate allies including, but not limited to, transporting dirty coal through Oregon, deforestation of our lands to obtain timber and wood products, and seizing the property of established residents to construct terminals and pipelines for the export of natural gas. All of these controversial and environmentally damaging enterprises are linked in large part to government and private industry initiatives that ultimately exploit American citizens to benefit China and other foreign markets.

China Launches Attack on First Amendment

This past summer, officials from the Chinese consulate in San Francisco became so emboldened as to fly to Oregon to meet with the Mayor of Corvallis, Julie Manning. Their intent was to pressure her into ordering a Taiwanese/American businessman to remove, from his private property, a mural depicting the brutality of the Chinese police towards the Tibetan people. The painting also included imagery of Tibetan self immolations and Taiwanese defiance.[10]

A letter sent by the consulate asserted that the mural "has caused strong resentment from the local Chinese community and Chinese students studying in the U.S."[11] It is a troubling precedent, indeed, that students from an authoritarian country with a well documented history of tyrannically repressing artistic expression feel entitled to dictate political positions that amount to an all out attack on the fundamental democratic principles upon which this country was founded.

"The letter also spoke of the strong political ties between Oregon and China, including scheduled upcoming visits by the governor and legislators, but warns against jeopardizing those relationships" and tainting them with issues related to Tibetan and Taiwanese independence.[12]

Thankfully, in a triumphant victory for democracy, Mayor Manning invoked the property owner's First Amendment free speech rights in refusing to order Mr. Lim to remove the mural. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley as well as Congressman Peter De Fazio also deserve credit for their defense of freedom of expression.[13]

China Committing Genocide Against Tibet

China is well known for its human rights abuses in Tibet. The Dalai Lama, who has devoted much of his life to serving as the political and spiritual leader of Tibet, is globally recognized as a man of compassion and good will. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was the same year China massacred hundreds of peaceful protestors by unleashing a volley of bullets into a student democracy movement gathering in Tiananmen Square. In the words of the Nobel Prize Committee, "It would be difficult to cite any historical example of a minority's struggle to secure its rights, in which a more conciliatory attitude to the adversary has been adopted than in the case of the Dalai Lama."[14]

The Dalai Lama has consistently promoted a message of non-violence towards China despite being forced by the brutal Maoist regime to flee from his beloved homeland. Since 1950, as a direct result of China's military conquest of Tibet, nearly a quarter of the entire Tibetan population, over a million people, have been killed and six thousand monasteries destroyed. Thousands of Tibetan women have been subjected to forced abortions and sterilization and thousands more including women, children and monks have been jailed and tortured.[15] Though the Dalai Lama has offered many times to meet with the Chinese in a spirit of diplomacy and respect, the Chinese government continues to vilify him and his people.

Flight Training Peace Corps Model

With its hallmark feature of sending volunteers to foreign lands to help train local populations, the Peace Corps serves as an example of a more balanced approach for sharing U.S. expertise with foreign countries. A similar model could be put in place for student pilots. Private flight training companies can travel to countries of interest such as China, Japan, Taiwan, Norway, Brazil, etc., and train the students on their own turf. In this way the burden of adverse impacts and the financial cost for infrastructure could be borne by the local populations rather than U.S. residents. Since flight training is a luxury rather than an essential need, these arrangements should come at no cost to the American public, thus freeing up billions of dollars currently devoted to general aviation expansion programs for education, health care, environmental safeguards, social programs, and high speed trains.

Flight training companies that wish to train U.S. citizens should be restricted to facilities that own the requisite acreage needed and also limited to aircraft that use unleaded fuel. According to the 2005 Hillsboro Airport Master Plan, local training operations include "touch and go" maneuvers that take place within four to five miles of the airport. In addition, other local training operations occur at designated locations within 20 miles of the airport.[16] Oregon Aviation Watch endorses the view that flight training companies should own all the property needed to pursue this line of business including the land over which they train and beneath the airspace they use. No public funds should be invested in subsidizing these for-profit business enterprises.

Under no circumstances should Port authorities, the FAA or the aviation industry have the right to lay claim to the airspace over our homes, neighborhoods, recreational areas, farmland, and waterways to accommodate the flight training industry. In addition, the individual companies which profit from this enterprise should assume the cost of third party monitoring to determine the full impact of aviation generated noise and pollutants on the air, water, soil, human environment, and wildlife at all current and potential training facilities. All decisions related to flight training in a community should be subject to democratic process rather than government/corporate dictatorial decree.

Concluding Remarks

Clearly there is a striking similarity between how China and the Port of Portland do business. Thus it should come as no surprise that the Port has become so adept at rationalizing its own authoritarian policies and positions. Like China, the Port is dismissive of environmental concerns. The well entrenched, non-democratic approach to governance that characterizes the FAA, the State of Oregon, the Oregon Board of Aviation and the Port of Portland on aviation issues amounts to an institutionalized attack on democracy, the environment and the rights of area residents to the enjoyment of their property.

The American public deserves answers. Why are we being forced by our own government to subsidize the training of Chinese pilots as well as other foreign nationals and domestic students at the expense of our livability, quality of life, environment, and security? Why are scarce public resources being flung at private aviation interests in a state that is laying off teachers, closing schools, and struggling to make higher education affordable? And where is the dialogue on China's deplorable human rights record?

Competing in a global market by adopting autocratic and totalitarian political and business practices is unacceptable. Respect for human rights, democracy, the environment and national security should take precedence above all else in dealings with foreign competitors and trade partners.


[1] Theen, Andrew. Port of Portland Executive Director Talks Air and Noise Pollution in Hillsboro Visit.Oregonian. (10/4/12).

[2] Hillsboro Aviation website.

[3] Hillsboro Aviation website.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Oregon Statutes. Chapter 778. Port of Portland.

[6] Port of Portland website. Commission.

[7] Executive Appointments. Governor John Kitzhaber.

[8] Bradsher, Keith. China Is Said to Be Bolstering Missile Capabilities. New York Times. (8/24/12).

[9] The Associated Press. Chinese Backing Suit Against U.S. Oregonian. (10/20/12).

[10] Cooper, Jonathan. Corvallis Faces Pressure from China Over Tibet, Taiwan Mural. The Eugene Register Guard. (9/11/12).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Hall, Bennett. Wyden Scolds Ambassador in China Mural Dispute. Corvallis Gazette Times. (9/13/12).

[14] Piburn, Sydney (editor). The Nobel Peace Prize and the Dalai Lama. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications. (1990).

[15] Kirkpatrick, Jeane J. Human Rights in Tibet is Not an Internal Affair of China by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Piburn, Sydney (Ed.). The Nobel Peace Prize and the Dalai Lama. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications. (1990).

[16] Hillsboro Airport Master Plan. Port of Portland. (2005). Pg. 1-6.

© Oregon Aviation Watch Contact Us Jump to Top