Port Exhibits Laxity and Secrecy about the Hillsboro Airport

December 7, 2017

The Hillsboro Airport is a general aviation facility that caters primarily to private flight training schools which recruit many of their students from outside the state and from overseas, especially China and Taiwan. Infrastructure projects such as runway, taxiway, and apron construction as well as lighting, airport signage and drainage, are subsidized via the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP). A large portion of AIP funding comes from fees affixed to the ticket prices charged to commercial airline passengers. The FAA then allocates a substantial portion of this money to general aviation airports that cater to training students from China, Taiwan and other foreign countries. See Overview: What is AIP? for additional information.

It should come as no surprise that President Xi of China can barely control his exuberance over his success in consolidating power. See China's military is flashing clues about the country's complex politics. After all when it comes to flight training, he has the Port of Portland, Oregon's state government, Portland Community College and the FAA eagerly catering to his whims. It used to be that in order to express enmity towards a country, you had to invade or issue threats. But this is no longer the case, as evidenced by the U.S. in general and Oregon in particular, wherein the respective government entities have become so consumed by power and greed they are now more than willing to circumvent democracy, degrade the environment, and compromise the livability of their constituents to further the interests of foreign governments and authoritarian regimes. Federal and state policies applying to the Hillsboro Airport are a case in point.

Hillsboro Aero Academy, based at HIO, is one of the largest flight schools in the Pacific Northwest. The school offers assurances to those who graduate from their program that they will likely find jobs working for Delta, Air China and Eva (a Taiwanese airline). The academy also states that it has trained pilots for over 75 countries. See the Hillsboro Aero Academy website. It is important to note that the $17 million dollar runway recently constructed at HIO was built primarily to accommodate this flight school.

Despite the presence of the massive pilot training mill at HIO, the Port of Portland, the proprietor of the airport, appears to be remarkably ignorant about what is going on at this facility. On the other hand it is entirely possible that the Port may be obscuring the facts about the types of businesses it is promoting.

Port Claims that it Does Not Track Operations at HIO

In response to an Oregon Aviation Watch public records request seeking information on the number of aircraft each business at HIO bases at the airport, the Port disclosed that "a reliable history of based aircraft is not available" and also acknowledged that it does not collect information on how many aircraft each business at HIO bases at the airport. The Port further stated that the FAA keeps records of this nature but their databases are considered "Sensitive Security Information." In other words both the Port and the FAA, though more than willing to funnel public money into furthering the corporate profits of the private businesses located at HIO, are choosing to shield them from accountability and transparency. This is particularly troubling in light of the significant number of operations at HIO which are devoted to training Chinese and other foreign nationals. It also begs the question of why the FAA, the Port and State of Oregon are foisting the cost as well as the negative environmental and public health impacts of the flight training industry onto U.S. commercial airline passengers and state residents.

In any case, the Port also acknowledged that it does not collect information on the number of flight hours and operations flown by each business on an annual basis "nor does the Master Plan forecast aircraft operations for each business."

The Port also claimed that it did not collect information on the number of training operations at HIO nor the types of aircraft student pilots are flying - fixed wing, helicopter, or jet. Nor does the Port collect information on how many student pilots are from Portland Community College (PCC), out of state or overseas.

The Port's failure to require their tenants to provide basic reporting and forecasting data on past, current and future activities brings into question the Port's credibility and competency to serve as proprietor of HIO. In addition, it leaves the community vulnerable to the negative impacts of irresponsible stewardship of public funds, ongoing exploitation, pernicious pollution, and noise intrusions on behalf of HIO, PCC and flight training schools whose commitment to advancing the interests of foreign governments and business interests appears to exceed their commitment to transparency, accountability, the environment, livability and the very constituents who are funding this travesty.

Lack of Security Requirements at HIO

In addition, the laxity of federally required security measures at HIO is of serious concern. Unlike commercial airline passengers, student pilots and passengers at HIO are not required to undergo rountine TSA security checks before boarding an aircraft. Per the Port, "As for local physical security enhancements at HIO, the Port does not discuss individual security practices related to any of our airports...The Port does not implement procedures for checking luggage, carry-ons, cargo and other items."

Port Keeps Detailed Aviation Statistics at PDX but Refuses to Do the Same at HIO

The Port's failure to maintain, track or provide data on HIO activity stands in stark contrast to its approach taken at Portland International Airport (PDX). A review of the Port aviation statistical record helps to illustrate this point and clearly shows that the Port does have the capacity to track the number of operations and the passenger count per carrier, as well as cargo tonnage. By contrast, at HIO there appears to be an intentional effort to obscure and conceal this information - an approach which leaves one to wonder what exactly the Port of Portland and the State of Oregon are trying to hide.

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