Hillsboro Airport (HIO) Overview

June 2011

The primary airport under review by Oregon Aviation Watch at this time is the Port of Portland's airport in Hillsboro. This facility is one of three airports owned and operated by the Port of Portland. HIO is described as a reliever airport to Portland International Airport (PDX), the largest commercial airport in the state [1]. As such it is designed to relieve congestion at PDX. Yet, due to the significant drop in operations at PDX there is no congestion to relieve. (Over the past 12 years PDX has plummeted to a 223,068 annual operational count which represents a 25 year low, commensurate with 1986-87 levels [2]). In addition, it is doubtful that a new runway will be needed at PDX until 2035 at the earliest [3].

Despite the excess capacity at PDX, the Port of Portland is aggressively pushing for a third runway at the Hillsboro Airport to accommodate flight training, general aviation hobbyists, and private aviation businesses. The proposed expansion, currently under judicial review in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, would create enough capacity to nearly double operations at this facility. But why would Hillsboro require a third runway when the commercial airport it is designed to relieve is not expected to need a new runway for more than 20 years?

Based on available documentation, it is likely that 90% or more of HIO operations are for fixed wing and helicopter flight training and that the fixed wing instruction primarily serves foreign students.

The community should be aware that last year the City of Hillsboro, at the urging of the Port of Portland, passed a Hillsboro Airport zoning ordinance designed to severely restrict the rights of developing property owners within more than a mile of the airport. The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) reversed the ordinance citing violations to both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions. The city of Hillsboro and the Port are currently in the process of rewriting the ordinance.

For further information on the legal challenges to HIO expansion and zoning plans see the legal section of this website.

Hillsboro Aviation

One of the main tenants at this airport is Hillsboro Aviation, a private for-profit company. Their website, www.hillsboroaviation.com , states that they are

  • "...one of the largest combined helicopter flight training and airplane flight training schools in the United States...Our company flies in excess of 55,000 hours annually" and has "trained thousands of pilots from over 75 countries."
  • "...one of the largest combined airplane and helicopter service companies in the northwestern United States." In this capacity they offer executive charter, scenic flights, film work, search and rescue, aerial crane, cargo transport, government contracting and firefighting.
  • "...the largest dealer of general aviation aircraft in the northwestern United States. Our airplane and helicopter sales teams represent the leading aircraft manufacturers in aviation. We are Bell Helicopter's only Independent Representative in the U.S. and a dealer for Cessna and the Robinson Helicopter Company."
  • an aviation parts and services supplier
  • a maintenance and fueling service to aviation businesses and aircraft owners

The publicly funded proposed third runway (currently under review by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) is "primarily a shorter runway for training aircraft."[4]

Clearly this company has benefited greatly from the airport infrastructure built at public expense with the millions of federal and state dollars lavished on the Hillsboro Airport over the years. In addition to economic costs, the noise and pollution generated by this company in combination with others at the airport, is borne by area residents.

Since few details about Hillsboro Aviation are provided in Port of Portland documents such as the 2005 Hillsboro Airport Master Plan, the Environmental Assessment on the Third Runway, or the Port of Portland website, we opted to submit a public information request to the Port of Portland. Our goal was to determine how much of the aviation activity at the Hillsboro Airport is directly related to Hillsboro Aviation's private business activities. Below is a summary of our questions and the Port's responses.

Hillsboro Aviation Information Request to the Port of Portland

In response to a question designed to determine how many fixed wing vs. helicopter operations are conducted by Hillsboro Aviation, the Port responded as follows:

We have records from the FAA that give us the number of total local operations at HIO, by month, without reference to Hillsboro Aviation (HA). The records do not distinguish between fixed wing and helicopters. If you would like us to provide you with these records, please let us know what time period you are interested in. Our records go back to 1987 and I have included what the Port obtained from the FAA for January 2011.

Our data on fixed wing operations comes from the FAA (see response above) and is aggregated: it does not distinguish between flight training and other operations. If you would like us to provide you with these records, please let us know the time period of interest. Our records go back to 1987 and I have included what the Port obtained from the FAA for January 2011[6].

When queried about how many of the Hillsboro Aviation student pilots are from outside the U.S. and asked to name the specific countries from which they originate, the Port maintained that they do not track this type of information either. Nor do they track how many students are training through the tax payer funded Portland Community College (PCC) Aviation Sciences program which contracts with Hillsboro Aviation for flight training or Embry Riddle University which leases space at PCC [7]. Both are identified on Hillsboro Aviation's website as Portland area colleges that offer aviation degreed programs.

The Port also claimed that they did not track or keep records on the following:

  • the number of German military veterans receiving training through Hillsboro Aviation
  • the number of student pilots from outside of Oregon training through Hillsboro Aviation
  • where student pilots are told they can practice
  • Hillsboro Aviation related accidents and incidents
  • the number of aircraft rentals Hillsboro Aviation logs annually
  • the amount of cargo Hillsboro Aviation ships and for whom (HIO does not have facilities for security checks on cargo flown on domestic flights)
  • records on whether or not Hillsboro Aviation has been cited for environmental violations

Foreign Pilots

On the issue of determining the number of foreign pilots and their countries of origin, the Port suggested contacting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This agency, in a 4/26/11 email, gave the following response to our information request: "Because this is beyond TSA jurisdiction we encourage you to contact your airline to obtain information regarding policies on this matter [8]." Perhaps if they had read the communication more carefully they would have noted that the questions posed did not pertain to a commercial airline.

A phone call to the Oregon Department of Aviation indicated that it was their understanding that individual flight training companies are responsible for tracking their students and where they are from. A 4/6/11 email to Hillsboro Aviation posed the following questions:

  1. How many student pilots do you train per year?
  2. What percentage are fixed wing and what percentage are helicopter?
  3. What percentage of the fixed wing students are from foreign countries?
  4. What percentage of the helicopter students are from foreign countries?

A response from Hillsboro Aviation's School Administration Manager stated, "...information related to our employees, finances, customers, etc. are private and are not available. I suggest you contact the Port of Portland to inquire what information is publicly available related to airport operations."

So far our effort to gather records on this topic yielded minimal results with each agency contacted denying responsibility for providing or tracking information.

Port Pushing for Airport Expansion and Restrictive Zoning Without Access to Data

Shockingly, despite this alarming absence of available data, the Port of Portland and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), are pushing for a third runway at the Hillsboro Airport along with extensive zoning restrictions on neighboring property owners in an effort to accommodate Hillsboro Aviation and other private businesses at the Hillsboro Airport.

This course of action sets a troubling precedent of using taxpayer dollars to subsidize infrastructure on behalf of private aviation businesses that intentionally withhold critical information regarding the activities they are engaging in.

The Port of Portland estimates that the cost of the third runway will range from $13.5M to over $16M including $4M from ConnectOregon III, $500,000 from the Oregon Department of Transportation, and $8M from the FAA.

Oregon Aviation Watch believes that our community deserves full public disclosure as well as government transparency and accountability. We are committed to obtaining and disseminating information regarding aviation activity at HIO. Towards this end we will make every effort to determine if public funds are being inappropriately allocated to promote private aviation businesses.

EPA Report Ranks Hillsboro Airport in Top One Percent in Terms of Lead Emissions

Oregon Aviation Watch has recently discovered that Hillsboro Airport is in the top one percent of U.S. airports in lead emissions. An October 2008 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report ranked HIO number 30, out of 3,414 airports in the country, in terms of the amount of lead emitted into the environment. HIO's estimated emissions for 2002 topped out at 0.6 tons but this number only includes lead released during the landing and take-off cycles. Estimates are not yet available for emissions when aircraft are in a cruise mode or during portions of the climb-out and approach modes. This suggests that the actual amount of lead emitted by aircraft flying in and out of the Hillsboro Airport is significantly higher than 0.6 tons annually, particularly in light of the repetitive, hovering, nature of flight training activity is factored in.

We have prepared a separate, more extensive report on this very serious situation.


[1] Port of Portland, Port Business, http://www.portofportland.com/SiteMap.aspx?group=pdx

[2] Portland International Airport Noise Abatement Plan Volume 2 Appendices. Port of Portland. (August 1996). Prepared by Leigh Fisher Associates. (pg 46).

[3] Airport Futures Charting a Course for PDX. Airport Futures Planning Advisory Group. Final Report. May 25, 2010. Portland: City of Portland Bureau of planning and Sustainability and Port of Portland. "Although a third parallel runway, crossfield taxiways, and new terminal are not projected to be needed in the planning horizon (i.e., through 2035), the plan preserves the flexibility to provide these facilities if they are needed in the future consistent with local and federal processes (pg 21)."

[4] Tucker, Libby. (8/25/06) A Conversation with Mary Maxwell. Daily Journal of Commerce. (pg 3). When discussing Hillsboro, Airport Maxwell who served as Director of Aviation for the Port of Portland from 2004-2009 stated, "Next on our plans will be the development of a third runway, which is primarily a shorter runway for training aircraft." Go to http://djcoregon.com/news/2006/08/25/a-conversation-with-mary-maxwell-the-sky-is-the-limit/ to access article.

[5] E-mail response (3/9/11) to information request from Troy Graham, Port of Portland - Legal Supervisor.

[6] E-mail response (3/9/11) to information request from Troy Graham, Port of Portland - Legal Supervisor.

[7] E-mail response from TSA (4/26/11).

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