Aurora Airport Releases Draft Master Plan

The Oregon Department of Aviation (ODAV) has released its first draft Airport Master Plan (AMP). The plan was released after only one Public “Advisory” Committee meeting. They also sent the 85 page document out late on a Friday afternoon for a Tuesday meeting. It appears from first glance that the plan relies heavily on the 2011-12 AMP, with updated useage and forecasts. To view the draft in its entirety, you can access the public website at: https://publicproject.net/auroraairport#.

We have just begun “drilling” into the draft but here are some basics about the airport and the plan. The airport covers an area of 144 accres. The runway runs north/south (35/17) and is 5,004 feet long. Water is provided from a system of wells and sanitary sewer is provided by individual drain field/septic tank systems. Private companies own the land on the east side of the airport. Most of the large hangers are privately owned.

Annual Operations/Based Aircraft

There were over 76,000 operations in 2021. The plan forecasts that number to increase to over 96,000 per year by 2031. An operation is a take-off or landing. That said, the number includes multiple training flights where the pilot circles the airport and conducts “touch & go’s.” According to the control tower logs (ATCT) over half of the flights were from visiting aircraft (Itinerant Ops). Air Taxi (Charter) accounted for over 2,000 operations. That is third only behind Hillsboro and PDX. General aviation itinerant operations (planes not based at the airport) is second in the state, just behind Hillsboro.

There are 235 propeller based aircraft (220 single engine, 15 multi-engine) and 36 jets. Currently there are 10 based helicopters. Over one million gallons of JetFuel and over 92,000 gallons of general aviation fuel were sold at the airport last year.

While the total number of based aircraft is less that it was in 2012, the number of jets based has increased almost 90%. Developers around the airport have increased large hanger space to over 971,000 s.f. That is a 17% increase and directly correlated to the increase in based jets and decrease in single engine propeller aircraft since many of the “T” type hangers have been removed. The current projection for the next 15 years is a 40% increase in based jets from the current 36 to 50. What is also significant is the projected increase in “Air Taxi” operations and other corporate aircraft using the convenience and reduced cost of landing at Aurora Airport rather than Hillboro or PDX.

Constrained Operatoins

One of the significant legal issues from the 2012 AMP was the term “larger class of airplanes.” The ODAV continues to claim that the extension of the runway to 6,000 ft would not permit a larger class of airplanes since they are already using the airport under weight limit waivers and “constrained operations.” If an aircraft is over the 44,000 pound limit, the operator must obtain a waiver from the ODAV. Similarly, if the aircraft needs more than 5,000 feet of runway with a full fuel load, it has to reduce the amount of fuel and that reduces its range (constrained operation). A 2018 study by the ODAV concluded that there are over 500 “constrained operations” at the airport annually. Coincidently, one of the FAA requirements for funding of the runway extension is 500 constrained ops per year. The medthodolgy used in those determiniations is subject to question since it relied heavily on pilot reports and not actual flight data.

Aurora State Airport Reference Code (ARC) is C-II. The C indicates the approach speed requirements based on runway length and the Roman numeral (II) is the design group for the aircraft’s maximum wingspan allowed to avoid objects either close to the runway or the taxiway. A small Piper or Cessna approaches at 60-65 knots. A small business jet approaches at about 125-135 knots. Aircraft performance is also dependent upon the air temperature and altitude of the airport. Business jets using the airport, both based and itinerant, often require more that the 5,000 feet available if the termperature is over 85 degrees and/or the runway is wet or icey. Several based aircraft exceed the wingspan limit and weight limit and obtain waivers from the state for all of their flights.

What is next?

The process will continue with a “workshop” set for April and a regular PAC meeting set for May. There is little doubt that the AMP, when completed, will be similar to the 2012 AMP and will include a recommendation to extend the runway to 6,000 ft. Our concerns remain the same. The stated goals in the AMP once again do not address the fact that Charbonneau, as well as other Wilsonville neighborhoods right across the river, will be impacted with any runway extension or increases in jet traffic over our homes. Although there are ample claims about the economic impact for the area, none of that data has been verified. We have asked repeatedly about the “safety” argument and that also remians somewhat vague. The ODAV suggests that even though the first draft of the plan is complete, the process is open and our concerns are being heard. They have also publicly stated that although we are an “advisory” committee, none of our “advice” will necessarily be a part of the plan. In other words, the blueprints for the house are already done. We might get to help pick which shade of blue curtains should be used in the laundry room.

Background

John Adams famously said, “facts are stubborn.”

I keep going back to that statement because whether you support growth at the Aurora Airport (including extending the runway and expanding the footprint), you oppose any more expansion, or don’t really care, these facts are not in dispute.

I am often asked “What do I need to know about the airport issue?” My answer is always the same. You only need to know the facts and then you can make your own assessment.

In 2005, the Oregon Legislature passed SB ____, commonly known as “through the fence” operations that allowed private businesses, specifically at Aurora Airport, to expand their operations and have a direct connection to the taxpayer funded facility. This was intended to be a pilot program but the bill only mentioned Aurora.

As a result of that legislation, Aurora has seen a tremendous growth in hangar space specifically targeted to corporate aircraft. In addition, it is the base of an airplane manufacturer and a helicopter transport company. That growth (along with other factors) has led to a substantial increase in the number of jet aircraft using the airport and being based there.

In 2009, as a result of that increase, the Department of Aviation (ODAV) began a process to update their Master Plan (per FAA requirements and Oregon Law).

In 2011, the Master Plan was completed but the ODAV found certain FAA requirements were not met and so it was amended to the 2012 Master Plan. This included a new Airport Layout Plan (ALP). The AMP called for an extension of the runway from 5,000 ft to 6,000 ft, which would allow the airport to accommodate a larger class of airplanes (bigger jets).

Oregon State Law, specifically Oregon Land Use Law, required such a plan to go through long held and accepted procedures that involve multiple state and local agencies before it becomes a valid plan. Since 2012, the City of Wilsonville, Clackamas County, the City of Aurora, and several citizen groups have asserted that the 2012 AMP did not meet those requirements. Our own Tony Holt (former CCC President) made those same points for many years before his passing in 2020.

Not given an adequate response by the ODAV, the collective group appealed to LUBA, then the Circuit Court, and finally to the Oregon Court of Appeals pressing their case. The Court upheld their position against the ODAV and and the plan, and sent the case back to LUBA for further review. ODAV, against the advice of the Oregon Attorney General, appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the lower courts decision against the ODAV on multiple legal, administrative, and land use issues.

Two important steps in the Master Plan process that were not followed by the ODAV is 1) The Oregon Aviation Board never formally adopted the 2012 Plan; and 2) Marion County never incorporated the 2012 Plan into the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Both of these issues are key components and yet, the ODAV continued to simply ignore them.

In 2021, the Oregon Attorney General’s office conceded that the OAB never adopted the plan. Now, in April of 2022, the ODAV has finally admitted the same thing.

That was then, this is now.

In 2021, the ODAV received a $1 Million grant to develop a new Master Plan. After a long delay, and despite the fact that the FAA requires citizen involvement in the planning process, we were eventually allowed to be a part of the “Public Advisory Council (PAC).” However, from the beginning, the PAC is stacked with business interests that have a direct financial stake in the expansion of the airport. The ODAV itself benefits from an expansion since it’s revenue is heavily dependent upon taxes on aviation fuel.

Here is where that plan stands.

The ODAV released its first 4 chapters of the plan in March. In a follow up meeting in April PAC members were given all of 4 minutes to discuss our concerns with the 85 page document. Raising several issues that affect us here in Charbonneau, the consultants provided no answers, simply moved on to the next PAC member. So, instead of being a work session with actual discussions about important elements of the plan, we expressed our concerns, were thanked for our input, and the meeting moved on to the next member.