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Airport upgrades overdue for takeoff


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POSTED: Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Major improvements at Honolulu International Airport can't come soon enough, especially as Hawaii's busiest hub prepares for an influx of new arrivals as major airlines add flights.

Tourism and government officials acknowledge that the first thing that visitors see now when they touch down on Oahu doesn't seem much like paradise. In fact, a customer-satisfaction survey of travelers last year by J.D. Power and Associates ranked Honolulu Airport 18th out of 21 medium-traffic airports in North America.

In 2006, the Lingle administration launched a 12-year, $2.3 billion plan to modernize all of Hawaii's airports, and the time is right to move forward with a piece of that plan: a $37 million project related to the expansion of Honolulu's interisland terminal, with a new Mauka Concourse extension.

The project means the demolition of the existing commuter terminal and the relocation of two regional carriers—go!Mokulele and Island Air—to the interisland terminal.

While some critics question such spending during the state's fiscal crisis, and go!Mokulele in particular is unhappy about being displaced, the terminal expansion and overall airport improvements are vital to Hawaii's continued success as a world-class tourist destination.

Funding for the Honolulu terminal expansion comes not from the state's general fund, but from a special fund fueled by landing fees; rental car, parking and food concessions; and commercial leases on or near airport property.

Besides improving the airport's appearance and efficiency, construction of the Mauka Concourse—expected to be completed in 2013—will add gates needed to accommodate major airlines vying for landing space. That travel demand is rising is welcome news after so many consecutive quarters of falling or flat arrival numbers.

Continental Airlines is the latest airline to announce that it is adding flights to Hawaii from the mainland, following earlier announcements that Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines were adding new flights to Honolulu or the neighbor islands—and in some cases, both.

Despite the state's financial crisis and serious demands on shrinking resources, the Lingle administration is correct to fund and promote improvements at the gateway of Oahu's economy.