“Honolulu’s KHON2 reported this week that the U.S. Army, which maintains operations at Dillingham, got a letter from the state DOT warning that it intends to vacate the lease as early as June of 2020. But the FAA told the state it’s obligated to keep the airport open and operating for civil use until at least until 2025 to amortize taxiway extensions grants given in 2003 and 2005.”
HONOLULU – After careful consideration the Hawaii Department of Transportation Airports Division (HDOTA) has concluded that operating Dillingham Airfield (HDH) is not in the best interest of the State of Hawaii and has notified the Department of the Army and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that it is exercising its right to terminate the Army Lease effective June 30, 2020.
“Dillingham Airfield is the only airport in the HDOTA system that is not owned by the State and it is in the best interest of the State to transfer the airfield back to the Army to manage and maintain, based on several factors including the uncertainty of the lease, risk of losing federal funds, the water system issues, and lack of authority over the facility,” said Director Jade Butay, Hawaii Department of Transportation. “In addition, HDOTA subsidizes a million dollars a year for the operation and maintenance at the airfield and we will focus the resources on the remaining 14 airports in our jurisdiction.”
HDOT, S. ARMY AND FAA CONTINUE DILLINGHAM AIRFIELD TRANSITION TO MILITARY MANAGEMENT
“The Army appreciates the HDOT support in operating and managing the Dillingham Airfield for more than four decades and is beginning the process of transitioning the facility back to military management,” said Col. Thomas Barrett, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii. “Our staff is diligently working to assess the way forward and is analyzing the possible impacts related to the lease transfer. This will be a detailed process involving extensive coordination with State and Federal agencies. First and foremost, the Army must fulfill its requirements of military training, readiness, response, security and safety. We will not take any action that will impact our ability to fulfill these critical responsibilities.”
A state lawmaker expressed outrage that hundreds of jobs and a valuable North Shore recreational resource for skydiving, gliders and ultralights may be lost following the sudden decision by the state Department of Transportation to cease operations at Dillingham Airfield.
State Sen. Gil Riviere, whose district includes Mokuleia, Waialua and Haleiwa, called the DOT decision a “tragedy” for the people “getting knocked out of their livelihood” by the agency at the civilian-use airport.
Riviere said the airport has been mismanaged by DOT, while a longtime business operator likened the state agency to an absentee landlord.
“It’s going to be devastating for the hundreds of people who now are not going to have a livelihood due to this decision,” Riviere said, adding that he is asking Gov. David Ige to intercede and reconsider the decision or at least have a longer-term transition for some other entity to possibly take over.
“But if they (DOT) shut this down as they are doing now, they are going to wipe everybody out. There will be no businesses to survive,” he added.
There are 47 civilian-based aircraft and over 36,000 civilian aircraft flights annually at Dillingham, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The Army has priority use of the airfield for training.
Three glider operations, two skydiving centers, hangars for privately owned aircraft and other aviation operations are based at Dillingham, according to business operators.
An online petition at change.org was started about a week ago to “keep Dillingham Airfield open for public use.” The petition had generated nearly 7,000 signatures as of Thursday.
The petition, started by skydiver Edward Cope, says there is no other option on Oahu for the skydiving and glider businesses. Some have been at Dillingham for decades, including Honolulu Soaring, which has operated there for 50 years.
Tom Sanders, owner of Paradise Air Hawaii, who has been at Dillingham for 17 years, wrote in an email to Riviere that the airfield is “one of the most unique and amazing aeronautical assets” on the planet and also provides a multimillion- dollar infusion to the North Shore and Oahu community.
Visits by a state-provided airport manager were few and far between, Sanders said.
“I could write pages on how special this location is and what a truly amazing opportunity it is for the state to have access to this for little or no cost but maintenance and management,” he said. “It is criminal that DOT (airports) has never realized how special this property is. They have truly tried to ignore the airport.”
“They (DOT airports) say, ‘Oh, we’ve been losing money’ … and then you go back to, how come you are not managing it more effectively?” Riviere said. “They say, ‘Well, it’s been problems for years,’ and I (say), ‘Exactly. You’ve been mismanaging it for years.’”
HONOLULU (KHON2) — The State’s plan to shut down Dillingham Airfield operations this summer is leaving more than just the aviation tenants in limbo. Always Investigating reports Native Hawaiian descendants of the area have concerns too.
Before it was Dillingham Airfield, the breathtaking stretch of Mokuleia was home to Hawaiian and kamaaina families and farms going back generations.
“This is where my grandfather’s family lived,” explains Thomas Shirai, a lineal descendant with roots on a large portion of what became the airfield. “The house was right here.”
Then the Army started a communication station in 1922, and it grew to hundreds of acres in World War II. Among the biggest former landholders was his great grandmother.
“It spread like a cancer, just 1 or 2 acres, then 500 acres plus, because they wanted an airfield,” Shirai said, flipping through a 100-year-old deed transfer booklet. “That book contains a take-it-or-leave-it, below-fair-market value. You don’t take then well you don’t get nothing.”
Nothing is what business tenants such as skydivers and gliders, and private or nonprofit tenants including youth flight programs, fear they’ll also end up with after their eviction by the State Department of Transportation. They have until just June 30 to get out after being there in many cases for decades.
Shirai feels their pain but says of them: “Not to be arrogant, but before you came here on this airfield there is something a lot deeper than you, and your existence is not even close, and I just want it acknowledged. That’s part of the healing process.”
Now Shirai is calling for a more thoughtful approach than the abrupt closure by the State.
“I was really thinking about go see the governor myself you know,” he said. “Whatever decision that’s going to be made with all those people, I want a seat at the table, which I deserve on behalf of my family and all the other ancestors and other families that were here, because it’s not being addressed.”
“I want to be a part,” Shirai said. “I feel that I have been left out of this process. I’m doing it for her (his great grandmother). She died very young at 58 years old, just one year younger than what I am now, 59. And I’m also doing it for her father, the main guy down here was considered by all those old-time people as the last konohiki.”
Shirai said he says he commends the Army’s handling of cultural resource protections at Dillingham in recent years.
Shirai says city and resources like police and fire helicopters, pump trucks, rescue boats, ambulances and more could station at Dillingham.
A government entity such as the City, or another State department, is just about the only candidates the Army would consider to replace the DOT as a managing lessee.
KHON2 asked area Honolulu City Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi what she thinks of the city being a potential sponsor?
“I think of course we have to look at all options on the table,” Tsuneyoshi said. “I think definitely we have to look for a public purpose for the land, something that is a support to the community and something that the community can be invested in and support.”
“There were some lineal descendants of the area that came out to say, ‘Hold on, time out,’” Tsuneyoshi said. “It was a telltale sign of the problems that were created by having such a big news dropped so unexpectedly onto everybody and the backlash was pretty tremendous.”
The airport’s two largest categories of flights are gliding and sky diving missions. The Army’s aircraft fly mostly at night for night vision device training and orientation. The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2017–2021 categorizes HDH as a basic general aviation facility. For the 12-month period ending June 30, 2015, the airport had 103 operators a day: 96% general aviation and 4% military. At that time there were 47 aircraft based at this airport: 24 single-engine, 20 glider, 1 helicopter, and 2 ultralights.
Five differing and defined perspectives on the continued operation of Dillingham Airfield (HDH) could be resolved if all could talk.
- Hawai’i Department of Transportation Airports (HDOTA), which has signed two grants still in effect (through 2025), no longer wants to “subsidize” the GA operations at the airport.
- The Army Department, which owns the land, is not interested or likely competent to run a GA airport. It has, however, shown some cultural sensitivity in dealing with the sacred ground and sites.
- The FAA has the legal power to compel HDOTA to complete the term of its obligations under the AIP grants. The federal funds invested in the airport represent a national interest in aviation operations.
- The General Aviation operators, Flight schools, Scenic tour operators and FBOs need HDH to continue their businesses which provide jobs and support tourism.
- Native Hawaiian descendants deserve a seat at the table to assure that their heritage is protected.
Fortunately, the debate does not include an effort to close the airport. The key to this pentagonal problem is operating HDH. Neither the Army nor HDOTA wants to be responsible for running and maintaining the runway; in fact, the State avers that the expenses need to be substantially subsidized.
It is a common belief that disinterested airport managers do not control expenses well and usually do not have incentives to identify and maximize revenues. There is some mention that a local governmental body might be enticed to assume the sponsor status. In any event, it would be highly advisable to consider a public-private partnership (P3).
An agreement that
can allocate risks for losses,
create incentives for increasing airport and non-aviation revenues, provide public input on flights and noise,
define precisely the environmental requirements,
create mechanisms for long term investing in HDH, protect/enhance the Hawaiian culture aspects of this area
address with specificity other significant concerns about the airport.
There can be terms which limit the lessee’s ability to increase the charges to the existing tenants. The Army’s operational rights can be absolutely established in a P3 contract. The AIP obligations can be vested with a new sponsor, but with those duties of the Grant Terms will cascade down to the private operator.
The lease (because the Army owns the land it cannot be a sale of the land) agreement balances control between the community and the private partner. The civic parties are responsible for the broader duties of a sponsor; the Army will continue to dominate the facility’s use; the FAA will have a basis to assure that the assurances are met, and the entrepreneur will be afforded incentives to grow its flow of income.
A P3 is not a panacea. It requires careful negotiation and precision in terms. HDH may not hold unharvested economic opportunities and might not attract bids on the franchise, but the exercise of defining all five parties’ requirements is useful in and of itself.
 Ahupuaʻa is a Hawaiian term for a large traditional socioeconomic, geologic, and climatic subdivision of land
 The 2001 Legislature passed Act 276 that changed the official name of the airfield located at Kawaihapai, formerly known as Dillingham airfield, to Kawaihapai airfield.
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