2019: Oregon International Air Show decamps for McMinnville
Editor's note: This story is part of the News-Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that mattered to readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
Since 1988, the Oregon International Air Show has been a Hillsboro tradition.
It's grown to be the largest civilian air show on the West Coast, according to organizers, and it's become a symbol — beloved by some, despised by others — of summertime in Hillsboro.
Well, until 2019, anyway.
Runway construction at the Hillsboro Airport prompted organizers to take their show on the road in 2019. For the first time ever, in September, the three-day air show was staged at McMinnville International Airport instead.
"There are a lot of 'firsts' this year," enthused Bill Braack, the Oregon International Air Show's president, "unique things that we've never had."
Although it was ongoing work at the Hillsboro Airport that forced the air show to relocate for 2019, the McMinnville location has a lot going for it, Braack said. One of the biggest is that Hillsboro and McMinnville have simply been on divergent courses in recent decades.
Fifty years ago, Hillsboro and McMinnville were about the size that Cornelius is today. Hillsboro was larger, with 15,365 residents, but McMinnville wasn't that far behind at 10,125.
The high-tech boom and urban outgrowth from Portland transformed Hillsboro. Today, the Washington County seat has an estimated population well over 100,000. McMinnville, the Yamhill County seat, has grown as well, but with an estimated population of about 35,000, it's gone from close behind Hillsboro in size to not even in the same league.
Hillsboro is also part of a growing Portland metro area, whereas McMinnville lies beyond its outskirts. It's not just the largest population center in western Yamhill County, it's the only major city.
"The feds love the new location, because the aerobatic box is clean — free from obstruction, no development, just farmland," Braack said.
Meanwhile, Hillsboro's relationship with the air show, and general aviation writ large, has been complicated. In neighborhoods beneath the Hillsboro Airport's flight pattern, yard signs decrying the airport aren't an uncommon sight. Public meetings about the airport routinely draw at least a small crowd to complain about the noise and air pollution.
"We … recognize that it's really quite a benefit for the Hillsboro community, and we also recognize that there are some community members and neighbors who may not appreciate it as much as others," said Port of Portland spokesperson Kama Simonds, referring specifically to the air show — although she could have just as easily been talking about the airport, which the Port owns and operates.
In light of all that, it was no surprise that rumors were flying for much of the year that the Oregon International Air Show would stay in McMinnville. And so it will, Braack confirmed in December 2019 — but organizers still want to bring some version of the air show back to Hillsboro starting in 2021.
Air shows are expensive to put on, and headline acts like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, or the Royal Air Force Red Arrows, which performed in McMinnville this past September, are in high demand and can be difficult to book.
But Braack said organizers are confident they can stage air shows in both Hillsboro and McMinnville, beginning in 2021.
"We want the two events to be different so that there's reason for folks to come to one versus the other, or both," Braack told the News-Times in December.
Exactly what form those two events will take has yet to be announced. For now, though, the Oregon International Air Show is staying in McMinnville — organizers have already confirmed it will be held there, and not in Hillsboro, for a second straight year in 2020.
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