The Oregon International Air Show is moving.
For decades, the air show — one of the largest attractions to western Washington County each year — has been held at the Hillsboro Airport, but airshow officials announced on Friday that the air show plans to move to a new location this year, due to construction on the Hillsboro Airport's runways.
Air show management is working to move the show to the McMinnville Municipal Airport, about an hour south of Hillsboro in Yamhill County. According to Bill Braack, president of the Oregon International Air Show, planned runway construction at the airport this summer will likely overlap with the air show, which is planned to begin Sept. 20.
Construction on the runways at Hillsboro Airport is expected to start in June and run through September. Braack said the air show needs to be prepared in case the work takes longer than expected.
"Given the expense of the air show, we can't risk them not being done in time," he said. "We don't want to get to the day and find we don't have a runway."
More than 60,000 people attend the air show each year, making it the largest civilian air show on the west coast.
Officially started at Hillsboro Airport in 1988, the air show has a long history in the city dating back more than 70 years. Hillsboro resident and Hillsboro Aero Air founder Norm "Swede" Ralston started the county's first air show at Hillsboro Airport in 1947 as a way to expand the then-fledgling airport. It was those early shows that helped convince air show officials to hold the show in Washington County in 1988 as part of the Portland Rose Festival. The air show spun off as its own event from the Rose Festival in 2002. The air show's management and administrative offices are based at the Hillsboro Airport. Braack said they plan to remain there.
"The Hillsboro community has been a wonderful partner, and we look forward to working with them in the future," Braack said. "There isn't really a negative with this move, but we have some extra work to accomplish to support our charitable mission. Our volunteers are largely on board, and we'll be able to gain more volunteers in McMinnville."
Braack said the McMinnville Municipal Airport is the only one in the Portland area capable of holding the massive air show.
"We looked at pretty much every viable airport in the Metro area, and the only other airport that can support what we need to do is in McMinnville," Braack said. "Scappoose doesn't work. Astoria would, but the weather in September is so iffy, Troutdale is just not feasible."
Braack said while he's sad to see the air show move, he understands the work the airport needs to do to its runways. "Runways don't get rebuilt all the time," he said. "When they're done, they last decades. Hillsboro's runways are a bit overdue, so it's important for the economic impact in Hillsboro and Washington County that it get done. There are some significant tenants and businesses that rely on that airport. We're just a little charity that needs a runway."
A non-profit event, proceeds from the air show have been donated to local charities and nonprofits for more than three decades.
Braack said the move is expected to be temporary, but said work hasn't been done to plan for the 2020 air show or beyond. "Right now we're focused on 2019, due to the runway construction," Braack said. "As soon as the show is done, we'll get to work on 2020, but that's the intention is to come back, in some form."
Braack said the air show has long been associated with Hillsboro and Washington County, and said he'd like to see the air show have a presence there. Braack said the organization is looking to expand the Oregon International Air Show to more locations across the state, with a handful of airshows at airports throughout the year.
"There's a good chance we'll be able to have more than one airshow per year in our portfolio," Braack said.
This year's air show is expected to feature two co-headliners, the U.S. Air Force's F-35 demo team — a newly formed team which is in its first year flying air show demonstrations — as well as the first-ever appearance in Oregon of the British Royal Air Force Red Arrows aerobatic team. Oregon is one of only six U.S. air shows the Red Arrows will perform at this year.
Braack said the air show considered skipping this year to avoid moving to a new location, but said the lineup made that impossible. "We have once-in-a-lifetime lineup," Braack said. "The Red Arrows from England are only making a half-dozen stops in the U.S. this year, and we're one of them. In their 75-year history they've never been to the state of Oregon or even the Northwest. We opted to lean forward and make it work."
Tickets for the air show are expected to go on sale in early June.
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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