State transportation officials said they are preparing a $275,000 master plan with the goal of bringing the airport up to Federal Aviation Administration standards so they can take it over from Princeville Corp. The state wants to acquire private airports "to ensure we have control over safety and operations," said Steve Takashima of the state airports division.
But residents said they feared a state takeover will ultimately lead to increased flights and bigger that would disrupt the north shore's quiet, rural lifestyle.
"If it's not broken, don't fix it," said Kilauea resident Ken Carlson. "The airport is fine just the way it is."
Currently, one helicopter company operates at the airport, and Aloha Island Air offers two daily flights between Honolulu on its smallest planes.
Business groups, resort associations, the Carpenters Union and some Princeville Corp. employees supported the state's effort, saying it could provide jobs and emergency relief services during a disaster.
Residents said that commercial interests, although often in conflict with the wishes of the community, generally prevail. "It often seems the outcome has already been decided and these meetings are purely shibai to meet the legal requirements," said Kilauea resident Kealii Holden.
Dan Shook, who lives near the airport, said the two community associations most directly affected by airport noise were excluded from the state's 1994 efforts to seek agreement on the acquisition from residents.
Takashima said that happened under the previous administration, and he didn't know why.
Hanalei Community Association President Barbara Robeson said her group was given just one day's notice of the meeting and had no time to contact its members.
Residents also questioned the state's projected passenger demand on the airport. Brian Bower of KFC Airport Inc., the firm preparing the master plan, said the number of passengers in the year 2025 is expected to be about what it was in the airport's mid-1980s heyday. Use of the airport has since plummeted. "It really is no longer a convenient airport," he said. "That's why we're seeing this downward trend."
But Hanalei resident Raymond Chuan said the trend indicated "there is obviously a lack of demand." And Louise Listman said people don't use the airport because they can get cheaper flights out of Lihue.
Other residents said Princeville Corp., which plans to give the 20-acre airport to the state, was seeking the takeover to avoid the cost of safety improvements and planned to bring in more people to stay at its resort and buy new homes.
John Isobe, Princeville Corp. spokesman, agreed that upgrading the airport would help the resort, but said the firm's main motivation was enhanced public safety and emergency services.
The state expects to have the master plan completed by year's end.