No Supreme Court Appeal on the Hillsboro Airport Third Runway Proposal

Miki Barnes
December 1, 2011

The deadline for airport expansion proponents to file a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of the Ninth Circuit Court ruling on the Hillsboro Airport third runway environmental assessment has passed. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had 90 days from the date of the decision to pursue this option. An announcement was made at the 11/2/11 Hillsboro Airport Issues Roundtable meeting that a Supreme Court appeal was under consideration and that a decision would be made by the end of November.

On August 25, 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) failed to take a "hard look" at the indirect environmental impacts of constructing a third runway at the Hillsboro Airport (HIO) in Hillsboro, Oregon. Indirect effects are those environmental impacts that are caused by the action and occur later in time or are farther removed in distance but are still reasonably foreseeable. The Court of Appeals determined that the FAA failed to consider that an additional runway may result in increased aviation activity and its attendant environmental effects.

As the Court noted:

In essence, the agencies 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. Their word, however, is not entitled to the significant deference that courts give aviation activity forecasts actually performed by the FAA[1].

Third Runway to Accommodate Student Pilots

The third runway is intended primarily to serve student pilots[2]. As one of the largest flight training schools in the Pacific Northwest, Hillsboro Aviation's international flight training school is poised to become a major beneficiary of this expansion. This for-profit business and long time tenant at the Hillsboro Airport boasts that it has trained thousands of pilots from over 75 countries[3].

Max Lyons, the President and CEO of Hillsboro Aviation (HA), has an established history of cultivating a business relationship with China. In the spring of 2011, HA was training over 100 Chinese student pilots and was gearing up to train their first big group of Chinese helicopter pilots. Per Lyons, "As general aviation continues to grow and expand in China we want to have a role in its growth and support this industry with the experience and resources we have developed over our 30 year history with Asia[4]."

The Hillsboro Aviation facebook page, as reflected in the following postings, reveals that Hillsboro Aviation does not limit its recruitment activity just to China:

  • An 11/15/11 posting welcomed three new students - one from Mexico, one from the U.S. and one from Norway.
  • An 11/2/11 posting announced that Max Lyons would be in Taiwan on 11/4/11 "to meet with anyone interested in becoming a pilot and our graduates."
  • 10/14/11 and 10/11/11 postings announced that the HA School Director, Ryan McCartney, would be "hosting informational flight training seminars" in several Norwegian cities - Tromso, Oslo, and Bergen.
  • On 10/13/11 four new international students from four different countries - Taiwan, Norway, Luxembourg, and Japan - were welcomed to HA.
  • A 10/12/11 posting announced that the HA School Director, Ryan McCartney, would be "hosting informational flight training seminars" in three German cities - Egelsbach, Hamburg and Ulm.
  • A 9/16/11 posting welcomed 13 new students - three from Taiwan, one from Germany, one from Brazil, one from Korea, and seven from the U.S.
  • An 8/16/11 posting welcomed new students from eight different countries - one from Austria; three from Brazil; two from Germany, one from Hong Kong; two from Korea, one from Russia, three from Taiwan and five from the U.S.

It appears that as many as 200,000 and upwards of between 75 to 90 percent or more of the annual operations at the Hillsboro Airport are on behalf of this company. Unfortunately, the negative effects such as noise, pollution, safety and security problems that accompany intensive flight training activity are borne by Oregon residents in Hillsboro and surrounding jurisdictions, both urban and rural.

Aircraft Accidents and Hillsboro Aviation

A list of some of the aviation accidents that have occurred in Oregon over the past few years, in aircraft registered to Hillsboro Aviation, exposes the risks, danger and widespread reach of flight training activity throughout the region. The accidents identified below which involve two states and six counties - Washington, Columbia, Yamhill, Marion, and Multnomah plus King County in Seattle - suggests that the skies over the entire region have been given over to this flight training enterprise. (See the National Transportation Safety Board Aviation Accident Database for additional information). All but one of the accidents had a student pilot and/or flight instructor on board. Please note that this is only a partial list of the accidents involving Hillsboro Aviation and the Hillsboro Airport over the years.

  • On 11/30/11 a flight instructor and student were hospitalized after an aircraft registered to Hillsboro Aviation crashed at Boeing Field in Seattle. "The plane took off from the short runway and was briefly airborne before coming back down and hitting an unmanned parked plane. The Piper flipped over and caught fire, but both the student and an instructor, a woman in her 30s, were able to escape the wreckage with only minor injuries" (Hillsboro plane crashes at Boeing Field; 2 injured).
  • On 10/25/11 a private pilot perished when, after taking off from Stark's Twin Oaks in Hillsboro, his aircraft collided in midair with a Piper registered to Hillsboro Aviation. The accident occurred about 5 miles northeast of St. Paul, Oregon. Neither the certified flight instructor nor the student pilot, who had taken off from the McMinnville Municipal Airport and were destined for the Aurora State Airport in Oregon, were injured. Just prior to the accident, the student pilot had been practicing various training maneuvers including a simulated emergency descent, stalls, steep turns, and slow flight.
  • On 10/12/11 a flight instructor and student pilot made an off-airport emergency landing in Cornelius, Oregon while practicing a simulated power failure maneuver in a Cessna registered to Hillsboro Aviation.
  • On 9/29/11 a Cessna registered to Hillsboro Aviation was damaged when a student pilot with a total of 29 flight hours engaged in solo landing practice maneuvers at the Scappoose Industrial Airpark.
  • On 10/8/10 a flight instructor and student pilot were involved in a helicopter accident at the Scappoose Industrial Airpark. The helicopter was registered to Hillsboro Aviation.
  • On 9/29/10 helicopter registered to Hillsboro Aviation that had departed from Independence, Oregon was damaged when a student pilot with 76 hours of flight time attempting a landing at Hillsboro Airport.
  • On 6/18/10 a Robinson helicopter registered to Hillsboro Aviation with a private pilot and his passenger on board landed about 1/2/ mile off Hillsboro Airport property.
  • On 9/20/09 a flight instructor and commercial licensed pilot died when the Robinson helicopter they were flying crashed in Forest Grove. The helicopter was registered to Hillsboro Aviation.
  • On 7/29/09 a helicopter registered to Hillsboro Aviation was damaged when a flight instructor and student were practicing autorotations at the Troutdale Airport.
  • On 7/27/09 a helicopter registered to Hillsboro Aviation was damaged while a flight instructor and student pilot were engaged in a practice session at the Troutdale Airport.
  • On 5/24/08 a Cessna flown solo by a student pilot with a total of 36 hours of flight training was damaged during touch and go operations at the Troutdale Airport. The aircraft was registered to Hillsboro Aviation.


Not only are there serious safety risks, but security is also a significant concern. Unlike commercial airline passengers who are forced to undergo invasive pat downs and pornographic x-ray machine scans, student pilots, who are given free reign to fly wherever, whenever they want, are not required to undergo routine security checks before boarding a training flight. Indeed, not a single Transportation Security Agent is employed at the Hillsboro Airport. The fact that the 9/11 terrorists and suicide bombers who attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were trained at U.S. general aviation airports either eludes them or is a critical piece of information they have intentionally chosen to ignore in their zealous quest to line the pockets of Hillsboro Aviation and other flight training businesses.

Excessive Cost

Subsidizing the Hillsboro Airport is proving to be an expensive undertaking. The third runway is expected to cost $13.5 million which includes $4M from Connect Oregon, $500,000 from ODOT, $500,000 from the Port of Portland (Port), and the remainder from the FAA. In addition to the proposed runway, the Port of Portland Transportation Improvement Plan, adopted by the Board of Port Commissioners in January 2011, identified nearly $48,349,910 for on-site HIO construction projects and $50M for road expansion projects near HIO for a combined total of $101,249,910 within a five year time-frame. Most of these improvements are to accommodate future growth in flight training activity at HIO[5].

Concluding remarks

Why are taxpayers financing growth and expansion at an airport whose main priority is training foreign students? Oregon and the federal government has chosen to fling scarce public resources at affluent private aviation business interests rather than hire teachers, fund schools, care for the mentally ill, and protect the environment. This is a disgrace of astonishing proportions.

For the greater good, the time has come to place serious restrictions on flight training throughout the region and to stop investing pubic money into private training businesses. International students interested in earning a pilot's license can train in their own countries. A Peace Corps model can be adopted by which Max Lyons and others interested in offering these services travel to the native countries of prospective students. All training costs incurred should be fully assumed by the individual students, not American taxpayers. In so doing, Oregon and the FAA will save millions in unnecessary airport expansions, restore livability, reduce safety risks, and protect the environment from lead emissions and other toxic pollutants. Currently HIO is responsible for emitting more than 0.7 tons of lead in addition to a host of other toxic pollutants into the environment each year.


[1] U.S. Court of Appeals. Barnes v. U.S. Department of Transportation, FAA, and Port of Portland. No. 10-70718. (8/25/11). Pg. 16285-16286.

[2] Quote from Mary Maxwell, Director of Aviation for the Port of Portland from 2004-2009, as quoted in the Daily Journal of Commerce Portland, Oregon. 8/25/06. "Next on our plans will be the development of a third runway, which is primarily a shorter runway for training aircraft."


[4] Hillsboro Aviation, News. Heli-Expo 2011.

[5] Per the Hillsboro Airport 2005 Master Plan, pg 3-31. "Future growth in local operations will be driven by training operations at Hillsboro Airport. This will be a function of the businesses on the airport which provide pilot training services." According to the Hillsboro Airport Draft Environmental Assessment, Volume 1. (October 2009). pg 3-6 as of 2007, "Local operations (consisting largely of training activity) currently represent about 68 percent of total operations at HIO."

© Oregon Aviation Watch Contact Us Jump to Top