Hillsboro Tribune article "Aviation Watchdogs Clash with Port, FAA in U.S. Circuit Court"

October 22, 2016

The following is commentary on Hillsboro Tribune article "Aviation Watchdogs Clash with Port, FAA in U.S. Court"

Comments on the Article

Many thanks to Travis Loose for covering the 10/5/16 Ninth Circuit Court hearing on the Hillsboro Airport (HIO) third runway expansion. A major issue before the Court was whether or not the additional runway will induce demand and thereby trigger a more thorough and extensive environmental review. In this regard, it served the Port of Portland's interests to claim that the operational count at HIO has decreased. As noted in the article, Port attorney Jason Morgan, argued that the runway did not lead to an immediate increase in operations (landings and take-offs) after it opened in April of 2015, however, this statement is misleading and as such deserves further scrutiny.

Background Information on Who is Served by Port of Portland Airports

The Port currently owns three airports - Portland International Airport (PDX) which facilitates commercial, military and general aviation activity as well as Hillsboro and Troutdale which are general aviation airports that predominantly accommodate a for-profit international flight school - Hillsboro Aero Academy (formerly Hillsboro Aviation).

A 6/04/13 Portland Tribune article Troutdale Flight School is International Cockpit for Pilots[1] sheds light on the nature of the flight training provided by Hillsboro Aero Academy (formerly Hillsboro Aviation) at both the Hillsboro and Troutdale locations. Per the article, "Hillsboro Aviation's Troutdale facility was opened on behalf of a request by Portland Community College to help grow their aviation flight program..." It is noteworthy that in their 2012 Terminal Area Forecast (TAF), the FAA expected the operational count at the Troutdale Airport to remain at between 56,000 and 64,000 operations from 2011 to 2040. However, Port aviation statistics show that the increases at Troutdale were far more sudden, rapid and unanticipated than the FAA realized. Indeed in 2014 Troutdale logged 100,415 operations and 129,033 in 2015. This doubling occurred at around the same time Hillsboro Aero Academy expanded operations at this facility.

The above situation serves as a cogent and compelling example of how rapidly operations can increase at an airport when a flight training company either moves in or chooses to expand.

In late 2014, Max Lyons, the owner of Hillsboro Aviation, sold the flight school to out of state investors. After the sale he stayed on as part owner, manager and CEO of the school.[2] He also continued to run Hillsboro Aviation, which offers charter, sales, and maintenance services. Over the past few years Hillsboro Aviation has undergone a major expansion at HIO.[3]

The private businesses owned and or managed by Lyons at both Hillsboro and Troutdale airports are major contributors to noise, lead and other toxic emissions associated with these airports.

According to the FAA Registry[4], nearly half of the 265 based aircraft at the Hillsboro Airport are registered to companies owned, partly owned, or managed by Lyons. Hillsboro Aero Academy has 83 based aircraft and Hillsboro Aviation lists 41. Yet another HIO aircraft is registered to Lyons Aircraft Leasing LLC and two are registered to his wife, Carol Lyons. The publicly funded $17M third runway was constructed in large part to accommodate the for-profit, private business interests promoted by Mr. Lyons. Please note that $4M of the runway expansion cost was donated by the State of Oregon via a ConnectOregon grant.

General Aviation Operations Shift to PDX and Troutdale After Opening of HIO Third Runway

Returning to the claim by Morgan that the additional runway did not lead to an immediate increase in operations in 2015, it will be necessary to review the operational counts at all Port owned airports especially Troutdale, since Hillsboro Aero Academy has a distinct presence at this location. Significantly, Port of Portland aviation statistics reveals a dramatic monthly increase in general aviation operations throughout 2015 at both PDX and Troutdale Airports. Indeed in January of 2015 the operational count at Troutdale climbed by 42% and by more than 75% in February and March. In April when the Port began utilizing the HIO third runway, operations increased by 55% at Troutdale and 48% at PDX while HIO general aviation activity dropped by -5.4%.

This pattern continues to unfold in May of 2015 with a 55.4% increase at Troutdale and a 44.5% increase at PDX while HIO operations drop by -12.1%. The decline at HIO is even more pronounced in June at -18.3% while general aviation operations increased at PDX and Troutdale by 41.4% and 6% respectively. In July of 2015 general aviation operations increased by 32.4% at PDX and 37.6% at Troutdale while HIO experienced a decline of -12.4%.

This familiar pattern of decreases at HIO with simultaneous double digit increases at PDX and Troutdale continued throughout 2015.

These sudden and hitherto unanticipated changes certainly suggest that the Port may have intentionally orchestrated the shift in an effort to minimize the potential impact of nearly doubling capacity at HIO by adding a third runway. It is noteworthy that though the Port and FAA provided the 9th Circuit Court judges with data on 2015 they didn't bother to mention that by the spring of 2016 operations at HIO gradually began to increase again, simultaneous with a decline in operations at PDX and Troutdale.

Visit https://www2.portofportland.com/Inside/AviationStatistics to access Port of Portland Aviation Statistics data.

It is also noteworthy that Port admits, "It is not unusual for the level of activity at any airport to vary from time to time." Thus 2015 data may not apply to the future, especially since the capacity of the airport nearly doubled with the addition of the runway.

Port Attorney Provides Misleading Information about Unleaded Fuel

The Tribune article also reported that according to Morgan, "the FAA is currently in the process of phasing out avgas, with unleaded fuel types expected to be readily available by 2018." Morgan is quoted as saying "Lead's going to be gone...I have a hard time seeing what there is worth fighting about still with this case."

It is troubling that the Port hired an attorney who is so uninformed on this issue and one who is perpetuating false information about a toxin that is known to be highly dangerous even at very low levels, so much so that the CDC, the EPA and World Health Organization have warned that there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood. Morgan and the Port would be well-advised to educate themselves on this issue. Towards this end, I suggest they read the Guidebook for Assessing Airport Lead Impacts from the Airport Cooperative Research Program. Please note that Samuel Hartsfield who works for the Port served on the panel for this project.

Per the guidebook, the FAA has been seeking a replacement for leaded fuel for more than two decades and has now set 2018 as the target year for identifying a lead free alternative. "...it should be noted that the adoption of unleaded AVGAS specifications does not ensure that the fuel will be available in a timely manner or at a price that is competitive with leaded fuel." [6] The report further notes that, "It is expected that any replacement fuel will require infrastructure (fueling) and face other airport challenges before it can be fully implemented."[7]

What this means is that the FAA has not yet identified a replacement fuel nor is there a mandate for pilots to use it. In the absence of a viable alternative, no phase-out plan has been established. The Port does not offer an unleaded fuel alternative at any of their airports nor does any other airport in the greater Portland Metropolitan region. In short, Morgan's statements on behalf of the Port are alarmingly shortsighted and betray a disregard for the environment and public health that is difficult to fathom.


[1] Hachmann, Cari. Troutdale Flight School is Cockpit for International Pilots. Portland Tribune. 6/4/14. Available on-line at http://portlandtribune.com/go/44-features/153866-troutdale-flight-school-is-international-cockpit-for-pilots.

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

[3] Hillsboro Aviation website. Available on-line at http://www.hillsboroaviation.com/en/page/new_hangar.

[4] Go to FAA Registry at http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/name_inquiry.aspx then type in the names of the companies and individuals.

[5] Guidebook for Assessing Airport Lead Impacts. Airport Cooperative Research Program. 2016. Pg. 4. Available on-line at http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/174934.aspx.

[6] Hillsboro Airport Parallel Runway 12L/30R. Final Supplemental Environmental Assessment. Prepared by Port of Portland for the FAA. Volume 2. Page G.9-48. Comment OAW11. (February 2014). Available on-line at http://www.portofportland.com/pdfpop/HIO_SEA_Final_Vol2.pdf.

[7] Greenberger, Marci. Forward to Guidebook for Assessing Airport Lead Impacts. Airport Cooperative Research Program. 2016. Available on-line at http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/174934.aspx.

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