Oregon’s Air Transportation Industry

Oregon’s Air Transportation Industry

by Brian Rooney

January 10, 2017

Oregon’s air transportation industry is essential to its economy. Not only does it provide thousands of jobs that pay well, it is also important for economic development. A nearby airport that can handle cargo planes and corporate jets is a necessity to many companies. In today’s global market, connections to other countries, especially Asia, are also important. In addition, the industry brings tourists to Oregon and takes people to remote areas on sightseeing flights and for outdoor activities.

Oregon’s Air Transportation Facilities

Oregon’s air transportation industry includes 422 airports and heliports. Most are small private facilities. Many are in rural areas and provide transportation for passengers and cargo in remote areas. They also provide services to the agriculture and forestry industries. The better known facilities are large public airports located near population centers.

Oregon has 11 airports that report to the Air Traffic Activity Data System (ATADS). Portland International (PDX) was Oregon’s busiest airport in 2015 with 218,021 total operations (a count of all takeoffs and landings). PDX ranked 42 out of 517 airports in the U.S in total operations. PDX is also the busiest for passenger volume with 8,340,252 enplanements (total number of passengers boarding an aircraft). It is the only airport in Oregon with direct non-stop international flights including Tokyo and Amsterdam.

The second busiest airport is Portland-Hillsboro (HIO) with 186,402 total operations. HIO has a large number (110,446) of local civilian flights since the predominant activity there is flight training. HIO is also home to the Oregon International Airshow.

The third busiest is Portland-Troutdale (TTD). It acts as a reliever for PDX and, like Hillsboro, has a large number of local civilian flights from flight training and scenic tours of the Columbia Gorge.

Other major Oregon public airports include Eugene – Mahlon Sweet Field, Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, and Redmond-Roberts Field . By total operations, Eugene is fourth in the state with 59,963. By passenger volume however, it is second with 447,813 enplanements in 2015. Medford is third in passenger volume with 370,187 enplanements. Redmond – Roberts Field had 280,823 enplanements in 2015. Eugene, Medford, and Redmond all have a large number of enplanements compared with total operations, indicating that they primarily serve commercial passenger flights. 

The Crater Lake – Klamath Regional Airport has a large level of military operations because it is home to the Oregon Air National Guard’s 173rd Fighter Wing, which has an advanced air-to-air combat training center for Regular Air Force and Air National Guard pilots.

Air Transportation Employment

Air transportation employment is separated into two categories, scheduled and nonscheduled air transportation. The scheduled air transportation industry is characterized by passenger and cargo planes that use regular schedules and regular routes whether they are fully loaded or not. The airlines that use major airports and mail cargo planes are examples. The nonscheduled air transportation industry, as the name implies, has no set schedule or routes so there is flexibility in where and when they fly. Air taxi and charter services are examples.

Like most industries, air transportation employment generally follows demand. However, improvements in technology and efficiency have caused the industry to become less labor intensive. New technologies like Internet-downloadable tickets, self-check-in, and realignment of routes and schedules to fill planes closer to capacity have lessened the need for workers at any level of demand.

As the economy and demand grew through the 1990s, employment in scheduled air transportation grew. The combination of a recession in late 2001 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 caused employment to drop until late 2005. Employment grew rapidly with the economy until early 2008. It then began to drop as the Great Recession took hold.

Employment in Oregon's air transportation industry turned upwards in late 2013 after several years of economic recovery. Nonscheduled air transportation has followed the same general trend, but it has been less volatile and has not gained in the recent economic expansion. As of June 2016, employment in air transportation stood at 4,163. Scheduled air transportation employed 3,868 while nonscheduled air transportation employed 295.

The “support activities for air transportation” industry is a related industry that includes airport operation, aircraft repair, maintenance, and storage. Employment in the support activities for air transportation industry includes private sector, local government and federal government employment. The industry has generally followed growth in the economy, with employment ranging between 1,800 and 2,300. The support for air transportation industry started to rebound from the last recession in early 2012, adding roughly 600 jobs between February 2012 and June 2015 to reach 2,396 jobs.

The air transportation industry generally pays well. The 2015 average annual pay for the industry was $63,770 compared with the overall statewide average for all industries of $48,320. The support activities industry pays $45,678, a little lower than the statewide all-industry average.

Occupations in Air Transportation

The majority of occupations in air transportation are performed on the ground. Two of the largest include aircraft mechanics and service technicians, which make up 14 percent of employment, and reservation and transportation ticket agents, which make up 11 percent.

Several of the larger occupations have to do with moving cargo. Material movers and cargo and freight agents are examples. With increasing internet sales and delivery from around the world, demand for air cargo transportation will likely grow.

The largest in-flight occupations are flight attendants at 13 percent of the industry total and airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers at 12 percent.

The table lists 10 large occupations in the air transportation and support activities industries and their wages. The wages listed are for all industries that include the occupation, not just air transportation.

Most occupations in air transportation and its support activities, such as reservation and ticket agents and cargo and freight workers, require a high school diploma and short- to moderate-term on-the-job-training and tend to pay less than the industry average. Others, like aircraft mechanics and pilots, require post-secondary education and tend to pay more.

Required qualifications for flight attendants and cargo and freight agents are somewhat unique. Flight attendants require long-term on-the-job training and cargo and freight agents are highly paid, but only require a high school diploma and moderate-term on-the-job training.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national employment in the air transportation industry is expected to be stable between 2014 and 2024 with scheduled air transportation dropping slightly and nonscheduled growing 14.2 percent. Continued automation makes the industry less labor intensive and contributes to a lack of growth. Support activities for air transportation is expected to grow 7.8 percent between 2014 and 2024.

Although there is no published projection for the air transportation industry in Oregon, most occupations in the industry are expected to grow. In addition, due to an aging labor force, increased replacement needs are anticipated due to retirements, and will help provide additional opportunities. All of the occupations most directly related to air transportation and support activities have job openings created by replacement openings.