AOPA in Hawai’i defeats a proposed airport closure- are you ready to beat back such a threat ?

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Hawai’i DOT ponders closure of Dillingham Airfield

AOPA conducts a masterful campaign to keep PHDH open

Proactive Lessons for ALL airports

AOPA and the Hawai’i aviation wing have won a hard fought battle to preserve Dillingham Airfield (PHDH), known by the indigenous people of these islands as Kawaihāpai Airport. A threat defeated (see below for the full story) is a good catalyst to review how to avoid efforts to close this infrastructure essential to flight in all of its dimensions.

Airports are becoming an endangered species. Neighbors demand closure due to perceived noise. Developers see the acreage as plots for parks, houses, apartments and/or shops. The political clout of these interests is frequently formidable, and their success rate is depressing.

Ideally, the local aviation community recognizes the value of a positive information campaignPROACTIVELY. Not all residents are aware of the commerce connection of their local airfield and equally the citizens’ awareness about the jobs impacts of these public utility the economic engines.

It is most impactful to get the aviation positive data shared before barbs are being thrown by NIMBYs. Getting the media members to understand that all airports are really national in their reach. There are associations and groups (A4A, AOPA, NBAA, Alliance for Aviation Across Aviation and others) that have the political acumen, resources, advocates and fact sheets so necessary to address the opponents’ exaggerated assertions.

Congress has provided certain tools for the FAA to use to  deter a decision to shut down a federally funded airport. The above listed organizations understand how to uses these protective processes and powers.

The critical observation is that pilots, aviation businesses and their professionals SHOULD NEVER ASSUME THAT ALL IS WELL. A well planned preventative program to educate the neighbors, civic organizations, businesses that benefit directly from the airfield, elected officials and even youth (tours of the airfield, flights, STEM related aviation lessons) about why they should appreciate airports.

The below AOPA article is a textbook on how to respond to efforts to X your runways.airport friends


PS– a long term solution for PHDH might be a PPP!!!
























September 22, 2021

By AOPA ePublishing staff



Advocates fighting to save Dillingham Airfield, a popular general aviation airport on the North Shore of Oahu, celebrated a significant victory in the long-running battle when the Hawaii Department of Transportation revoked its notice to terminate the lease, on December 31, of the land from the U.S. Army.

The latest reprieve buys much more time—years rather than months—to sort out a plan for the popular airport’s future.

AOPA rallied support for Dillingham Airfield (also known as Kawaihāpai Airfield) soon after the Hawaii DOT confirmed to AOPA in April 2020 that it would move to terminate its lease of the airport property from the U.S. Army ahead of that agreement’s 2024 end date. The state ordered tenants to vacate the airport long used for flight training, skydiving, sightseeing, and glider operations, putting businesses and tourism resources at risk.

AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager[1] Melissa McCaffrey led the association’s “advocacy A-team” effort to enlist local support, helping build a multi-front, grassroots campaign that garnered support among lawmakers and was joined by more than 450 individuals, earning local media coverage of the issue. Among those supporters, U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii) urged Gov. David Ige to maintain civilian use of the airfield in a March 3 letter.

Kahele praised the DOT decision (announced in a September 17 letter) to revoke its intent of early termination of the land lease in a statement quoted in local media coverage of the development:

“The Hawai’i DOT’s decision to revoke its notice of early termination of its lease with the Army allows for much needed continued dialogue about the future of Kawaihāpai (Dillingham) Airfield. Since taking office, my staff and I have made a concerted effort to find long-term solutions for the ongoing maintenance and operations to maximize the potential of Kawaihāpai,” Kahele said. “The Airfield is a critical economic driver for the North Shore and serves as an educational epicenter for aspiring local pilots as well as the general aviation, and skydiving communities.”skydiving at PHDH

State lawmakers also joined the preservation push, crafting a bill that earned strong support from AOPA that McCaffrey expressed in testimony provided in February, making a case for continued civilian use of an airport that provides $12.6 million in direct economic benefit and draws about 50,000 visitors a year while employing 130 people at 11 airport-based businesses.

The FAA also urged the state to reconsider evicting Dillingham Airfield tenants in a February 1 letter to state airport officials, calling on the state to postpone the then-planned July 30 lease termination and reminding the state of its federal grant obligations. AOPA worked closely with state Sen. Gil Riviere (D-District 23) and state Rep. Lauren Matsumoto (R-District 45), the United States Parachute Association, as well as leaders of the local advocacy group Save Dillingham Airfield to persuade the DOT to extend Dillingham’s use as a civilian airfield. The growing group of supporters was disappointed when the June 30 lease termination was extended only until December, but kept the pressure on for more time to develop a sustainable long-term solution.

According to McCaffrey, “This reprieve from early termination of the lease at Dillingham (Kawaihapai) Airfield gives the stakeholders an excellent opportunity to find solutions to the existing problems, and more importantly, opens the door to set the foundation for a vibrant and growing GA community for years to come.”

Dillingham Airfield has military roots, having been called Mokuleia Airstrip when built by the U.S. Army a decade before the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, when a few pilots from the North Shore airfield were able to launch and confront the assault. The runway was later extended, and the airfield was renamed Dillingham Air Force Base in 1948 in honor of Capt. Henry Dillingham, a B–29 pilot who was killed in action during World War II.

With more than 300 flyable days a year, Dillingham proved an ideal spot for soaring and sightseeing, with nearby mountains that offer hiking and unbeatable scenery.


[1] Melissa McCaffrey has served as the Western Pacific regional manager since 2015. She is responsible for general aviation state advocacy, policy, and other aviation-related issues in Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada. McCaffrey has been with AOPA since 2012 and was previously responsible for air traffic and airspace-related issues for the AOPA Government Affairs division. She is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, has a bachelor’s degree in air traffic management, and is a private pilot. McCaffrey lives in Temecula, California, with her husband and sons and flies out of French Valley Airport in Murrieta, California.

DOT letter

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