Oregon Aviation Watch Challenges Legality of Hillsboro Airport Third Runway

January 16, 2015

In late July of 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Oregon Aviation Watch's request for an injunction pending appeal on the construction of a third runway at the Hillsboro Airport (HIO). Following that decision the Port of Portland chose to move forward with the expansion before awaiting the court's decision on the broader issue of potential induced impacts due to increased demand. Even though the runway has now been built, the Court has yet to rule on the possibility of irreparable harm and significant environmental impacts due to the actual usage of the runway.

In our ongoing quest to insure public accountability, restore livability, and protect the environment, Oregon Aviation Watch is continuing with its appeal. Towards this end, it is urging the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to once again remand the case to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As noted by the Ninth Circuit Court in a 2011 opinion, when the proposed expansion was first remanded:

"It strains credulity to claim that increasing HIO's capacity significantly, which in turn would decrease congestion and delay, would have no bearing on the decision of the flight schools, the military, emergency medical services, and businesses and private owners over whether to locate their aircraft at HIO or at other considerably less busy GA airports in the area."[1]

The 2011 Court decision also included the following remarks:

"The agencies [FAA and Port of Portland] are unable to point to anything in the record showing that they in fact considered the possibility that expanding HIO's capacity would lead to increased demand and increased aircraft operations, but discounted it in the face of evidence to the contrary. Furthermore the FAA acknowledged that a new runway is 'the most effective capacity-enhancing feature an airfield can provide,' and repeatedly stated that HIO, a busy reliever airport, must accommodate all GA [General Aviation] activity demand directed towards it...Cumulatively, this record demonstrates that the agencies had independent knowledge of a reasonable possibility that increasing capacity at HIO would lead to increased demand, but chose to gloss over it."[2]

"The agencies [FAA and Port of Portland] cannot point to anything in the record that actually discusses the impact of a third runway on aviation demand at HIO. Tellingly, the Aviation Demand Forecasts chapter of the HIO Master Plan does not even mention the number of runways at HIO in its almost 50 pages, although it recognizes that aviation demand is affected, among other factors, by 'the nature of available facilities.' In essence, the agency would like this court to take their word for it and not question their conclusory assertions in the EA [Environmental Assessment] that a new runway would not increase demand."[3]

In response, the Port of Portland (Port) and FAA submitted a new "Supplemental" Environmental Assessment (SEA) which claimed that their initial Environmental Assessment forecast of airport operations included the growth-inducing effects of a new runway but, at the same time, the Port and FAA submitted a new forecast in the SEA which predicted an induced demand of only 11,350 operations per year and maintained that there would be no significant environmental impact. This conclusion was largely based on a flawed FAA pilot survey that failed to factor in the annual operations generated by the single largest operator at HIO, formerly Hillsboro Aviation's flight training school, now Hillsboro Aero Academy. According to the original environmental assessment, flight training alone accounts for perhaps 68 percent of the approximately quarter of a million annual operations at HIO, thus a failure to factor in the anticipation of flight training growth significantly skews Port/FAA forecasts and assertions. (For further discussion on this topic see pages 13-15 of the Oregon Aviation Watch Reply Brief.[4]) In addition, the FAA's underestimation of potential growth inducing effects conflicts with reports of recently announced and some already completed expansions by current HIO Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) including Hillsboro Aviation (now Hillsboro Aero Academy), Aero Air, and Global Aviation. See pages 4-7 of the testimony submitted by Oregon Aviation Watch for additional details.

Port of Portland Constructs Runway Despite Valid Community Concerns

Instead of waiting for the case to be heard in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in keeping with their characteristically cavalier attitude towards using public money to promote private business interests, in August of 2014, the Port of Portland (Port) began constructing a publicly funded $17 million third runway primarily for the purpose of accommodating flight training.[5] The major beneficiary is Hillsboro Aero Academy (formerly the Hillsboro Aviation flight school), a business that recruits student pilots from China and other parts of the world to train over area homes and neighborhoods. As a result, local residents routinely bear the brunt of the significant noise and pollution generated by this facility.

Recently Announced Expansion Plans at the Hillsboro Airport

Recent media reports attest to current and future expansion plans at HIO, though none were addressed by the Port or the FAA in the Environmental Assessment, Supplemental Environmental Assessments or Finding of No Significant Impact decision regarding the environmental impacts of the growth inducing effects of adding an additional runway.

  • A $7.6 million hangar was built for the storage of Nike owner, Phil Knight's, Gulfstream V and personal luxury jet,[6] a $65 million Gulfstream G650[7] which "has been touted as Gulfstream's biggest, fastest jet and can reach speeds of Mach 0.85, or more than 90 percent of the speed of sound."[8] Even though Knight is listed as the "44th wealthiest man in the world, with an estimated fortune valued at $19.2 billion"[9] there is no indication that he or other HIO users, contributed any money whatsoever to the third runway infrastructure costs. In fact the public was required to foot the bill primarily through state ConnectOregon and FAA federal handouts. Also of note, Nike reports holding $6.7 billion in off-shore accounts thereby reducing its U.S. tax obligation by more than $2 billion.[10] [11]
  • On 10/16/14 Oregonian reporter Luke Hammill reported on Hillsboro Aviation's plans to build a new hangar at HIO, "The company will invest more than $3 million in the new facility, and the Port will pay as much as $2.3 million for road improvements and utility extensions to open up the north side of the airport."[12] The article did not address where the $2.3 million for "road improvements and utility extensions" will come from but based on previous expansion projects, the Port is likely to foist the cost onto the public.
  • A 12/2/14 Oregonian article reported that Max Lyons, the owner of Hillsboro Aviation, sold the flight training portion of the business to two out of state investment firms - Renovus Capitol and Graycliff Partners. The name of the school will change to Hillsboro Aero Academy but Lyons will continue to help run it.[13]
  • A 12/5/14 Portland Business Journal article described plans under consideration by the Port of Portland to buy another 53 acres adjacent to HIO. Per the report, "The Port could use the land for possible development of aviation operations and future industrial developments."[14]

These explosive growth plans, which were all announced after the FAA issued a finding of no significant impact on adding a third runway at HIO, strongly suggests that the Ninth Circuit was absolutely on the mark in stating that a new runway "has a unique potential to spur demand," yet the Port and FAA briefs totally failed to consider the above mentioned expansions in their initial Environmental Assessment or their subsequent Supplemental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact on this project, thus the potential induced environmental impacts of adding a third runway at HIO have not been addressed.

Oregon Aviation Watch Attorney Submits Legal Briefs

On 8/11/14 Sean Malone, attorney for Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW) and the Petitioners, filed an Opening Brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the expansion. The OAW Reply Brief, in response to arguments put forth by Port of Portland and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), was filed on 12/2/14. Both documents can be accessed at http://www.oregonaviationwatch.org/docs/OAW-HIOThirdRunway2014.php.

In the 84 years during which HIO has grown from a grassy airstrip into the largest general aviation airport in the state, the Port of Portland has never taken a hard look or engaged in a thorough and comprehensive investigation of the environmental impacts of this facility by completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). As a result the full impact of HIO, which accommodates the largest flight training school in the Pacific Northwest, and is the largest facility source of lead emissions in the entire state, has never been evaluated. It is noteworthy in this regard that HIO currently ranks 21st in the nation among nearly 20,000 U.S. airports in lead emissions. Though the CDC and EPA both state that there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood, the Port and FAA maintain that HIO, even with their conservative, flawed and inaccurate growth forecasts, is expected to emit 0.8 tons per year of lead by 2016 and 0.9 tons per year by 2021.

In addition, according to EPA documentation, HIO is also a significant source of a number of other air toxics in Washington County including, but not limited to: acrolein, 1,3 butadiene, ethyl benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, organic carbon particulate matter 2.5, elemental carbon particulate matter 2.5, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter 2.5 and volatile organic compounds. A number of these toxins are known or suspected carcinogens, others are linked with asthma, respiratory disorders, cardiac disease and a host of other debilitating and potentially life threatening health conditions.

Please Donate

We are seeking your support in this all volunteer effort to address the serious environmental, health, and livability degradations resulting from HIO aviation activity. All contributions will go directly towards covering legal costs.

Click Here to Donate

Oregon Aviation Watch is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. (U.S. tax-exempt number is 27-3131841.)

We are sincerely grateful to all community members who have supported Oregon Aviation Watch and other airport appeals in the past. Your willingness to stand behind this effort is sincerely appreciated. Thank you for your support!

With Appreciation,

Miki Barnes, President of Oregon Aviation Watch
Jim Lubischer, Vice-President of Oregon Aviation Watch


[1] Barnes vs U.S. Department of Transportation et al. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion No. 10-70718. (8/25/1). Pg. 16286. Available on line at http://www.oregonaviationwatch.org/docs/NinthCircuitCourtOpinion-10-70718.pdf.

[2] Ibid. Pg. 16281-16282.

[3] Ibid. Pg. 16285.

[4] Barnes vs FAA and Port of Portland. No. 14-71180. (12/2/14). Petioners' Reply Brief. Available on-line at http://www.oregonaviationwatch.org/docs/HIO_2014-41-1-Reply_Brief.pdf.

[5] "Next on our plans will be the development of a third runway, which is primarily a shorter runway for training aircraft." (Statement by Mary Maxwell, then Director of Aviation for the Port of Portland, as quoted in the Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, Oregon), See Tucker, Libby. A Conversation with Mary Maxwell: The Sky is the Limit. (10/25/06). Available on-line at http://djcoregon.com/news/2006/08/25/a-conversation-with-mary-maxwell-the-sky-is-the-limit/.

[6] Kish, Matthew. Phil Knight Gets a New Hangar for His Private Jet. Portland Business Journal. (7/1/14). Available on-line at http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/blog/threads_and_laces/2014/06/phil-knight-gets-a-new-hangar-for-his-private-jet.html?page=all.

[7] Zhang, Benjamin.Nike Chairman Phil Knight Is Building an Awesome Hangar for His $65 Million Jet. Business Insider. (7/3/14). Available at http://www.businessinsider.com/nike-phil-knight-gulfstream-g650-2014-7.

[8] Hammill, Luke. Nike Co-Founder Phil Knight's New Flight Hangar: Have You Seen It In Hillsboro? Oregonian. (12/16/14). Avaiable on-line at http://www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2014/12/nike_co-founder_phil_knights_n.html.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Boyle. Pat. OSPIRG Blasts Nike for its Off-Shore Accounts. FM News 101 KXL. (6/5/14). Available on-line at http://kxl.com/2014/06/05/ospirg-blasts-nike-for-its-offshore-accounts/.

[11] Brettman, Allan. Consumer Groups Say Nike and More Than 300 Other U.S. Corporations Keep Billions Overseas. Oregonian. (6/5/14). Available on-line at http://www.oregonlive.com/playbooks-profits/index.ssf/2014/06/consumer_groups_say_nike_and_m.html.

[12] Hammill, Luke.Hillsboro Aviation To Expand: Will Build First Structure on Hillsboro Airport's North Side. Oregonian. (10/16/14). Available on-line at http://www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2014/10/hillsboro_aviation_to_expand_w.html.

[13] Hammill, Luke.Hillsboro Aviation Sells Flight-Training School, But Day to Day Operations Not Likely to Change. Oregonian. (12/2/14). Available at http://www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2014/12/hillsboro_aviation_sells_fligh.html.

[14] Bell, John. In Two Airport Deals, Port Proposes $98 Million PDX Expansion, $10 Million Hillsboro Land Acquisition. Portland Business Journal. (12/5/14). Available on-line at http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/blog/real-estate-daily/2014/12/n-two-airport-deals-port-proposes-98m-pdx.html.

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