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Toxic emissions charges continue to dog airport

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Watchdog group wants PCC to halt Hillsboro training program


A Banks-based aviation watchdog group has called for Portland Community College to halt its aviation sciences pilot training program

at the Hillsboro and Troutdale

airports.

In a Dec. 14, 2015, document addressed to interim PCC President Sylvia Kelley, Oregon Aviation Watch President Miki Barnes urged PCC to be part of what she termed a “solution” rather than a “primary cause” of lead and other toxic emissions generated by airplanes flying over Washington County residents — particularly those who live near the airport.

Also named as sources of the pollution in Barnes’ letter are the Port of Portland, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and PCC’s aviation school partner, the Hillsboro Aero Academy, which provides flight instruction in its training program.

“Though we are strong supporters of educational programs and international exchange endeavors that enhance and promote the greater good, we do not feel that flight training falls within this category,” Barnes wrote. “Many of the negative health effects caused by flight training impair and interfere with the learning process and the quality of life of area residents.”

Neither Kelley nor Hillsboro Aero Academy President John Hay responded to the Tribune’s requests for comment.

But the Hillsboro Airport Roundtable Exchange (HARE) indirectly addressed a few of the issues brought up by Barnes during a meeting Feb. 3.

Made up of representatives of the aviation industry, local governments and the Hillsboro community, HARE is a forum designed to give the public a platform from which it can communicate with various governmental entities, the Port of Portland, other community members and businesses “toward creative and reasonable solutions for compatible development of the Hillsboro Airport,” according to the mission and purpose outlined in HARE’s Charter bylaws.

HARE documents show the group has been working on lead and noise pollution concerns since 2013.

“The airport is caught between concerns [over] those issues and what they’re allowed to do under federal law,” said Steve Nagy, general aviation manager for the Port of Portland.

The FAA strictly regulates aviation fuel standards and flight patterns, placing responsibility for emissions-related changes on its shoulders. And though the Port of Portland can encourage certain behaviors at the Hillsboro Airport (which it owns), it has no authority to enforce them.

Regarding the use of leaded fuel, for example, Nagy said the Port has taken steps to make an unleaded alternative called Mogas more readily available to pilots and aircraft owners. But its adoption has been slow and the Port can’t force anyone to use it, which means lead pollution problems continue.

“Out of nearly 20,000 airports nationwide, [Hillsboro Airport] ranks in the top 1 percent ... in lead emissions,” Barnes said. And the Environmental Protection Agency identified Troutdale Airport, another Port-owned facility where PCC also offers flight training, as the “eighth largest facility source of lead emissions in Oregon and the number one source of lead emissions in Multnomah County,” she added.

According to Nagy, the Port has been working with partners to bring Mogas to the Hillsboro Airport. But, he said, because Mogas also eats away at some of the intricate components of an airplane engine, many types of aircraft would need to be mechanically modified to accept it.

“Mogas is essentially car gasoline designed for aircraft,” Nagy said.

And, even though Mogas is slightly cheaper than leaded fuel types, the cost of modifying an airplane engine doesn’t exactly balance, he added. “If it were very simple, a lot more [airports] would have implemented the use of the fuel more quickly,” Nagy said.

The Port did what it could by conducting its own Mogas study and sharing the results with the businesses that sell fuel to the airport, but those businesses are moving cautiously. “It takes time and money to incorporate such a large infrastructure change,” Nagy said.

The FAA and EPA have set aggressive timelines to bring Mogas into regular use, he noted. Meanwhile, the lead and noise subcommittees will convene again at the next HARE meeting on May 4.