Oregon’s aviation-related firms provide manufacturing, product distribution, and first- and second-tier supply-chain services.  Oregon is #1 in the world for production of experimental (kit) aircraft shipments and #1 in the U.S. for heavy lift helicopter companies.

Industry Overview

Although most manufacturing of aviation components and kits is centered on or near public-use airports (like those in Portland, Scappoose, Aurora, Redmond, and Bend), supply-chain and distribution firms exist in at least 15 Oregon communities in both urban and rural areas. They produce or manufacture for avionics, airplane components and assembly, raw material for fabrication, and unique components for specialty aircraft like the “Alaskan Bushwheel.” Aviation customers include individual purchasers as well as major airframe manufacturers in other states (e.g. Cessna Aircraft in Kansas). Oregon’s kit plane manufacturers also provide over 70 percent of all of the kit planes sold within the U.S. each year to global customers. This industry cluster also includes businesses providing local fabrication services, which has led to robust maintenance and repair services for all sizes of aircraft, including balloons and forest-fire fighting airframes. Key competitors for Oregon’s aviation industry include international manufacturers in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Canada and Mexico.Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) now called by the FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) is a major new growth sector. Oregon has a major foothold in this industry at Hood River, The Dalles, and other nearby cities in the Columbia River Gorge.

Cluster Components and Companies

Experimental and sport aircraft manufacturing; heavy lift helicopter maintenance; historic aircraft maintenance; avionics design and manufacturing; aviation related military equipment; aerial photography, radar, lidar, and other hi-tech sensing systems; airport information systems; general flight training; international ab initio flight training; flight service companies; industrial and residential airparks, avionics software, and specialty metals casting.

Notable companies include: Vans Aircraft (Aurora Airport); Sky Research (Ashland Airport); Hillsboro Aviation (Hillsboro Airport); Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (Hood River Airport); Oregon Aero (Scappoose Airport). Oregon’s Aviation cluster includes the heavy lift helicopter industry, which is comprised of Columbia Helicopters (Aurora Airport), Evergreen Helicopters, Helicopter Transport Services, Croman Corporation, Erickson Air-Crane, Superior Helicopters, and Carson Helicopters.

Aviation by the Numbers

Overall, the Oregon Aviation Cluster consists of:

  • Over 300 aviation companies
  • Aviation companies in 78 Oregon cities (nearly 1/3 of all incorporated Oregon cities)
  • The ares with the most Aviation Cluster companies, listed in order of the number companies, includes: Portland/METRO (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas), Mid-Willamette Valley (Yamhill, Marion, Polk Counties), Central Oregon (Deschutes County), Southern Oregon (Jackson & Josephine Counties), South Willamette Valley (Linn, Lane, Benton Counties)



Economic  Impact

Direct Employment: 6,858 (2011)
Employment Growth: -9.0% (2008-2011)
Average Wage: $62,395 (2011)
Wage Growth: 21.2% (2008-2011)
Total Firms: 123 (2007)

Source: Oregon Employment Department, Covered Employment and Wages, www.QualityInfo.org

 Cluster Strengths

  • The singular focus on aircraft manufacturing.
  • The strong foundation of collaboration and inter-reliance of cluster participants to produce aviation components and related products.
  • Strong emphasis on use of airports and aviation industries for economic development at Oregon’s airports.

Cluster Challenges

  • Instability and inconsistencies of FAA funding and policy-making in aircraft manufacturing and oversight.
  • Aircraft fuel prices continue to be high and erratic.
  • Liability concerns from the banking community make it difficult to obtain commercial short-term lines of credit.

Key Initiatives

Use smaller rural airports as economic development centers. Specific initiatives to assist in the success include:

  • Allowing urban water and sewer to serve rural airports outside of their urban growth boundary,
  • Getting Congressional help with gaining FAA approval to promote public-private partnerships at rural airports.
  • Increasing export sales through assistance and trade shows (STEP, OTPP)
  • Responding to China’s rapid growth of airports and air travel by expanding Oregon’s role as a gateway for aeronautical products and services by increasing current flight training contracts and aviation sales to China and creating a “gateway web site” of Oregon’s aviation companies, with translations in Mandarin.
  • Developing Centers of Excellence for UAV testing areas.
  • Increasing buyer/seller connections for Oregon companies through the Northwest Connectory
  • Assessing the industry’s “Economic Value by Region” (jobs, wages, sales, etc.)
  • Maintaining and expanding rural air service locations. This includes experimenting with alternative models of rural air service other than normal airline scheduled air service.
  • Stabilizing aviation funding (federal and state) for commercial air service and general aviation airports. (Consider transportation mode competition issues relative to funding.)
  • Continuing work on refining state regulations and zoning standards for airports that coordinates FAA, state, and local interests, while promoting job creation and transportation improvement to rural areas.
  • Supporting Oregon Department of Aviation in its role fighting for FAA dollars for Oregon airports and aviation needs. (ODA already is a bare bones agency, yet brings large dollars to the state via federal grant programs.)
  • Coordinating with other clusters on issues:
    • wind power towers as they relate to airport airspace,
    • defense related aeronautical projects.
  • Coordinating aviation maintenance workforce skill needs with community college and other training programs so that workers are able to work with new aviation technologies.
  • Continuing the attempt to capitalize on the State of Oregon being an early adopter of the Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) next generation FAA airspace monitoring system which will replace radar.
  • Encouraging the education and training of new pilots, especially among young people, both to help maintain a healthy aviation community, and to put aviation as a career choice on young people’s planning screens. Education in aviation includes training in science, math, weather, flight planning, and equipment operation, which easily transfers to many other fields.

Key Organizations

The Aerospace Industries Coalition is slowly re-forming into the Aviation Cluster, which first convened in 2001. There will be some overlapping representation with the advanced manufacturing cluster, and from the Oregon Aviation Business Association, the Oregon Airport Manager’s Association, and the Oregon Pilot’s Association. Currently, the cluster is loosely organized with 2-4 informal meetings per year of the CEOs of Oregon’s aviation industry. The Oregon Aviation Board sponsored an organizational meeting of 100 of Oregon’s aviation companies at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, on June 21, 2012. Keynote speaker Max Lyons, from Hillsboro Aviation discussed his company’s view of the growing demand for airports, pilots, and aviation services in China.

Cluster Contacts

Aron Faegre

Aron Faegre & Associates Aviation Planning

520 SW Yamhill Street PH1, Portland, OR 97204

(503) 222-2546

Mark Gardiner

Oregon Aviation Board Chair

Advanced Inquiry Systems, Inc.

20000 NW Walker Road, Beaverton, OR 97006

(503) 726-4718