Aurora Airport Proponents Meet with Residents to Discuss Proposed Runway Extension

Positive Aurora Airport Management, more commonly known as PAAM, held a meeting last week to discuss the proposal to extend the airport’s runway from 5,000 feet to 6,000, and to respond to neighbors’ objections to the plans.

PAAM’s mission is to promote the safety and economic viability of the Aurora airport and to enhance its compatibility with neighboring property owners. Wednesday’s meeting was the second part in a continuing discussion (the first was all about noise abatement) and was hosted by Helicopter Transport Services, which is headquartered at the Aurora airport.

PAAM President Tony Helbling said the extension is not intended to make the airport accessible to more or larger aircraft. Rather, it is about making the airport safer for the planes that are already based there.

The corporate and charter jets who use the Aurora airport frequently are designed based on the 6,000-foot runway standard, Helbling said, and to take off from a 5,000-foot one requires special procedures, like starting the journey with less than a full tank of fuel and stopping by the Hillsboro airfield to top off.

Matt Maass, state airports manager for the Oregon Department of Aviation, agreed.

Maass said the state has no plans to convert the Aurora airport to handle commercial airline traffic. It will remain general aviation, which means serving private aircraft and charter operations.

Nestled among the farms and rural homes of French Prairie, the Aurora airport has grown into a major player in the field of aviation. It’s Oregon’s third-busiest airfield — behind only Portland International and Hillsboro (although 30 airports have longer runways) — and is home to some of the most well-regarded and influential aviation outfits in the state and nation, including Columbia Helicopters and Life Flight.

Supporters of the runway extension tout the potential for continued and increased economic development, with the airport drawing more corporate and business interests into the heart of the Willamette Valley. Opponents fear the proposal would mean larger, louder aircraft and more of them, impacting the environment and surrounding farmland and disrupting residents’ quiet way of life.

The runway extension is opposed by Aurora’s mayor, Kris Sallee, the land use advocacy group Friends of French Prairie and many of the residents in the immediate area. Canby Mayor Brian Hodson, however, supports the project, along with the Canby business community.

Last year, the Legislature approved the ODA’s request to apply for $37 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to extend the runway. However, the project was not selected for funding in this year’s grant cycle.

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