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Feeder airports ease PDX traffic

Port wants Hillsboro, Troutdale and Mulino operations to pay for themselves

It's Oregon's second-busiest airport, handling 254,000 flight arrivals and departures last year.

It's more active than any of the state's other second-tier airports: Eugene Airport, Rogue Valley International in Medford and Redmond Municipal in Central Oregon.

The aging terminal is bursting at the seams. Its two rental car agencies are kept busy.

But not a single regularly scheduled commercial flight picks up or delivers passengers there.

Welcome to Portland-Hillsboro Airport, one of three Port of Portland satellite airports ringing Portland International.

The other two are Troutdale Airport east of Portland, which the port acquired in 1942, and the much smaller Mulino Airport south of the city, which the port took over in the 1980s.

Hillsboro and Troutdale, in port parlance, are 'receiver' or 'feeder' airports because they take some of the traffic heat off PDX.

PDX had almost 560,000 flight operations Ñ takeoffs and landings Ñ in 2001. That includes military, general aviation, cargo and scheduled commercial flights.

Hillsboro's traffic numbers were about half PDX's but more than twice Troutdale's. The Port doesn't keep traffic counts for Mulino, which has no control tower and serves a limited recreational flying market.

The three airports are projected to generate identical amounts this fiscal year and next: $2.5 million in revenues, mostly from leases and landing fees, against $2.6 million in anticipated expenses.

The port wants the satellites to be more financially self-sufficient and is promoting cost controls, divesting land not needed for airport use, charging market rates for airport leases and developing new revenue sources.

High-tech gateway

Traffic at the 900-acre Hillsboro facility Ñ site of the annual Rose Festival air show and aviation gateway to the high-tech Sunset Corridor Ñ consists of corporate aircraft, small private planes, charter services and training school flights.

The port acquired the airport from the city of Hillsboro in 1966 for $1. Almost 40 years later, Hillsboro Airport's level of activity has grown so much that spaces are at a premium in the terminal parking lot.

'This is a pretty dynamic environment,' says Andy Priebe, the port's senior aviation planner, explaining the need to update the Hillsboro Airport master plan, due to get under way next month.

The update, Priebe says, will examine the airport's capacity for growth, look at its future role, review a proposal for a third runway and identify land acquisition needs.

The costs of expansion are daunting, given the soaring cost of real estate in the area. At its last meeting, the port voted to buy a 9.82-acre parcel from Portland Community College for $1.6 million, about $3.75 a square foot.

John Newell, the port's general aviation manager, points to growth inside the airport as well as burgeoning development outside its perimeter. Once surrounded by farms and open fields, the airport now sits amid high-tech factories, residential and commercial development.

The growth of Oregon's high-tech sector is apparent in the profusion of aircraft based at the airport Ñ 30 business jets, 20 helicopters, 325 single- and multi-engine aircraft.

The newest development, a 35,000-square-foot hangar that will be completed late this summer, will house Nike's two corporate jets. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., the Portland-based forest products company, also has a hangar at Hillsboro, and the gleaming headquarters of Global Aviation Inc. houses several corporate jets.

All told, 47 businesses are at the site.

Hillsboro Aviation Inc., one of three full-service fixed-base operators, offers services ranging from refueling and aircraft maintenance to sales of avionics, airplanes and helicopters.

The company's large helicopter fleet aids wildlands firefighting, ferries television news crews, handles lifting jobs and takes part in search and rescue. It also runs a flight training school in which students can learn to fly airplanes or helicopters.

Troutdale also is updating its master plan, which the port's Priebe says will look at the airport's expected use during the next 20 years.

Businesses operating there include flight schools, engine, propeller and avionics maintenance firms as well as a U.S. Forest Service facility for fueling and refilling heavy air tankers that drop retardant on forest fires.

Troutdale blossomed in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the popularity of small private planes was booming. The numbers dropped after litigation drove several small airplane manufacturers out of business and haven't bounced back Ñ operations declined by 5 percent between 2000 and 2001.

But until the mid-1950s, when commercial planes were smaller, the airport at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge was Portland International's backup.

In fact, for several months in 1948 after the Vanport flood breached the dike along the Columbia and inundated the Portland airport, Troutdale handled all of Portland's air traffic.

Fog-free backup

Even now, Newell says, it's the metro area airport most likely to be clear when Hillsboro and PDX are shut down by fog, thanks to strong east winds that scour the gorge.

'We are planning for (continued) aviation use of the airport' in the Troutdale master plan, Priebe says. But questions do come up in the community from time to time about whether that's the best use of the property, he said.

At the same time, a steering committee is working on a state-funded look at development of the Oregon Science and Technology Park, proposed for a nearby site.

Envisioned as a research and development facility involving private companies as well as an educational institution, the park would be developed at the now-closed Reynolds Aluminum smelter just north of the airport.

'We've basically made a commitment to keep them informed of activities from our master plan, and they will do likewise,' Priebe says.

Contact Jeanie Senior at

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