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Kalaupapa Airport Improvements

Photo by Rick Schonely

If all goes as planned, the tiny Kalaupapa Airport will receive improvements to its terminal, runway and safety measures in a $5 million project that would start later this year and last five years. The state Department of Transportation is proposing and funding the project to enhance operations and help mitigate safety hazards of flying into the remote peninsula.

Originally constructed in the early 1930s, the airport remains the lifeline for the peninsula. It is located on 42 acres on the northwestern tip of the Kalaupapa Peninsula and provides transportation for patient residents, employees and visitors; emergency support, supplies, and daily deliveries of mail, freight and perishable food; and transportation of solid waste off the peninsula. The airport originally consisted of an unpaved landing strip, which was paved in 1953. Also in the 1950s, a terminal building and small secondary structure were built. Since then, maintenance measures and safety upgrades have been completed, but the tiny airport has remained largely unchanged.

Plans — according to a recently released Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA)– call for renovations to the existing airport terminal as well as maintenance building, construction of a new mail drop off shed, and construction of a new Aircraft Rescue Firefighting (ARFF) vehicle garage. An ARFF does not currently exist at the airport; right now, the Kalaupapa ARFF truck is located in the Kalaupapa settlement nearly two miles from the airport and the response time for the truck to reach the airport in an emergency is 15 to 30 minutes, according to the DEA.

“The primary responsibility and objective of the ARFF garage is to provide timely response, protect life and property, and minimize the effects of an aircraft accident, incident, or catastrophic event occurring primarily on airport property,” states the DEA. “The location of the ARFF garage is a critical element in reducing emergency response times to an aircraft related incident.”

Personnel will man the ARFF station during all active flights.

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

Additionally, the project will include upgrades to improvement the safety of flying into the airport. These include improved taxiway and runway lighting, an upgraded of a Precision Approach Path Indicator that gives pilots a visual aid in approaching the runway, and installation of a new Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) to help pilots more accurately obtain current weather conditions.

The upgrades will also bring the airport up to current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) design requirements. Walkways will be widened for wheelchair access and additional storage will be built for the wheelchair lift equipment, which currently takes up a large portion of the interior 1,070 square foot, single-story building.

No changes to the transportation service, schedule or operations of the Kalaupapa Airport will result from the upgrades. The DEA notes that the current condition of the airport does not pose an immediate threat, but the upgrades will “enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of emergency services personnel, and ensure continued safe air access to the Kalaupapa Airport.”

Public comments are currently being accepted on the DEA and the deadline to offer input on the project is Nov. 7. Send comments to: Department of Transportation, State of Hawaii, Evan Kimoto, P.E., by phone at (808) 838-8803; email evan.k.kimoto@hawaii.gov; or mail Airports Division – Engineering Maintenance 400 Rodgers Blvd, Suite 700, Honolulu, HI 96819-1880.

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One Response to “Kalaupapa Airport Improvements”

  1. Howard Schwenk says:

    All long overdue, maybe they will have saved a major accident. Just look at “ALL” the departments and organization involved…Not to mention the $5,000,000.
    But like this article starts…”If all goes as planned,” There maybe an endangered weed at the end of the runway. Aloha and Mahalo

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