Hillsboro airport goes back to as early as 1928. Dr. Elmer H. Smith purchased 100 acres (40 ha) of land near the town to use as an airport, as he owned the first airplane in town. In the early 1930s after Smith died the city purchased the airport for $7,500 and received a federal grant to improve the facilities. They then built two runways, one 3,000 feet (910 m) long and the other at 2,800 feet (850 m). In July 1936, Richard Evelyn Byrd's "Stars And Stripes" Fairchild FC-2 aircraft used to explore the South Pole was displayed at the airport.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1941, the city received federal money again, plus the city approved local financing to improve the airport again, with the costs of the improvements totaling around $600,000. During and after flooding along the Columbia River in 1948 the Hillsboro facility was used by some commercial operators due to the closure of then Portland-Columbia Airport (now Portland International), which lies along the river. The three commercial carriers at Hillsboro were Coastal Airways, Columbia Air Cargo, and General Air Cargo. This was the flooding that wiped out the city of Vanport, and due to that disaster relief supplies were flown into the Portland area by the United States Air Force using the Hillsboro Airport.
The field was also considered as a possible Naval air station in 1946 and again in 1955, but was eventually rejected by the Navy. In early 1960 several companies were located at the airport including Tektron Instruments and Georgia Pacific. In 1964, the Hillsboro City Council made an official request to the Port of Portland to take over ownership of the airport. The facility had been deteriorated due to inadequate funding, and the Port agreed to take over ownership after some legal wrangling in 1965. Then on August 28, 1966, an air traffic control tower was opened after construction costs of $400,000 with staffing by the FAA. Next in April 1975 the current main terminal that includes offices and a restaurant opened, followed by the opening of the new 6,300-foot (1,900 m) runway on September 1, 1976. In 1989, customs call out service was added to allow international business flights at the airport after lobbying by Congressman Les AuCoin and business leaders. After advance notice, customs inspectors from Portland were sent to the airport to process the passengers.
Hillsboro airport is often mentioned as a reliever airport for Portland International Airport. In 1999, Portland City Council member Dan Saltzman suggested expanding the Hillsboro Airport to relieve pressure on the busy Portland International Airport. This was during a time when the Port of Portland was discussing building a new larger airport or possibly adding a third runway to PDX to handle growing demand for air travel and air cargo. Saltzman suggested shifting some commercial flights to Hillsboro, while shifting some cargo flights there had previously been discussed.
As of 2006, the Port of Portland planned to spend $134 million through 2025 to improve the Hillsboro facility. Plans call for a third runway, increased hangar space, and additional automobile parking on-site, among other items. Construction on the third runway was to begin as early as 2010, but legal challenges put the plan on hold. In 2007, a staffed customs office was added to the airport. Paid for by funds generated by a user-fee association, this allowed the airport to continue as a port of entry, and removed the need for a Customs officer to travel from Portland International Airport.
The airport handled 259,263 flights in 2008, surpassing Portland International in this category. In 2009, the airport received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand taxiways as part of the airport's master plan.
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