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Airport, Service Improvements Coming to Kalaupapa

For the first time in six years, Kalaupapa will again have firefighting equipment and staff at their tiny airport. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is providing a “skidmount unit” – a firefighting devise on a flatbed truck – to aid in the case of emergency, along with 24/7 personnel to man it, according to DOT spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl. The equipment should arrive to the settlement in March, he said. Two additional firefighters are being hired by the state, who will rotate service in Kalaupapa.

“If things ever go bad, it would be a collaborative effort,” said Department of Health Kalaupapa Administrator Mark Miller at last week’s community meeting, adding that the additional equipment and personnel would greatly aid in the event of emergency.

At last month’s meeting, patient residents told DOT and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials that the settlement needed a replacement for the firefighting facilities they used to have.

“A fire station is more important here because it’s not like topside with other options,” said one patient. “Please help us make a fire station here.”

The FAA’s Ron Simpson, who attended last month’s meeting, told residents that because all aircraft flying into the settlement carry fewer than 10 passengers, a fire station at the airport was not legally required. He said he would take their mana`o back to Honolulu to discuss the possible need for an aircraft rescue facility in Kalaupapa.

Meisenzahl said that ever since the new state administration came into office, the DOT has been working to “get the ball rolling” to bring additional resources into Kalaupapa.

“We’ve been aggressively pursuing this [fire facilities] in case, heaven forbid, the worst thing happens,” he said.

Other upgrades to the airstrip’s facilities are also moving forward, including repairs to runway lights, fencing the perimeter of the property,, and new plumbing in the terminal, according to Miller.

“Facility improvements, and the addition of a manned fire truck on-site, will greatly enhance the safety of Kalaupapa airport operations and provide a more pleasant environment to enter and exit the beautiful peninsula area by airplane,” Miller said, via email.

Congress recently passed a bill which guarantees Essential Air Service (EAS) budgeting for Kalaupapa for the next four years, added Miller. That means residents can continue to enjoy lowered airfare currently provided by Makani Kai Air Charters.

And with that lowered airfare, Miller is trying to get two banks to resume their services to the settlement. Bank of Hawaii and American Savings Bank ceased visiting Kalaupapa when airfares skyrocketed in the past few years. Now, with EAS support, Miller said the banks have “indicated interest” in returning once or twice per month. Residents currently have to complete all bank transactions through the mail.


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