Kona airport modernization plan competes for funds

Published On: Apr 18 2014 12:00:00 AM HST   Updated On: Apr 18 2014 05:00:00 PM HST

Almost three million passengers fly in and out of Kona International Airport every year.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz' story.

That's 40 commercial flights a day---not including the private jets, and smaller planes.

All in a facility built in 1970 for two inter-island companies and that now regularly services 8 airlines as well as charters from Japan.

"It's the proverbial ten pounds of sugar in a five- pound sack," said Chauncey Wong Yuen.

The Hawaii district airports manager believes the facility needs to get with the times.

"Back then we were carrying in and out 500,00 and here we are 40 years later that number is five or six times that amount, but we still have that same footprint. It's the same size it has not changed," said Wong Yuen.

But change costs money. He hopes this is the year that adequate funding will materialize.

Among the changes being considered is connecting two sides of the terminal with an air-conditioned holding area to make for a more efficient use of space.

“One of the issues with the TSA and the concessionaires is the split terminal and having to maintain two groups of employees. People tend to be forgiving with the Kona airport since it's the only outdoor airport and we are cognizant of that, but we do have to have areas that are safe and efficient for our customers inside the terminal," Wong Yuen said.

Two months ago when emergency generators failed to kick in after a power outage, there was nothing safe or efficient about 1000 people in the dark in the tiny airport. The faulty part was so old, the replacement piece had to be manufactured, Wong Yuen said.

In order to enclose the two sides of the split terminal, it means moving the Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center. Under the plan, the current facility honoring Hawaii's first astronaut will move across the street in a new building.

There are already signs of change.

A new control tower was completed recently and this week crews are putting finishing touches on a new firefighting facility that will be dedicated this summer.

The new complex will also operate as a command center for airport emergencies.

"The better the facility is, the better the air carriers will feel about bringing customers that has more space and that's what we've suffered through,"said Wong Yuen. 

There is a plan to add a photvoltaec system to address the airport's energy needs and another that considers using seawater air-conditioning tapping the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion program  at the adjacent Natural Energy Laboratory.


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