Transforming Hawaii’s Airports

$2.3 billion makeover includes visible and invisible upgrades

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   Photo: David Croxford

Ask Ernest Nishizaki what the single most important thing is that Hawaii could do to revitalize its visitor industry and economy, and he does not hesitate with his answer: Fix Honolulu International Airport and fast.

“We’re talking about the first and last impression our visitors have of Oahu, and I think that project should have taken first priority,” says Nishizaki, the local-born executive vice president and COO of Kyo-ya, which owns Starwood properties in Hawaii. “If you look at our airport and compare it to other airports throughout the world, Honolulu Airport is nice, but it’s certainly not up to par with any of the other airports.”

Airport officials hope that impression will change as a $2.3 billion statewide airport modernization program moves into high gear. This program has stumbled before and might again, but, officials say, this time the money is in hand, plans are in place and they are moving forward.

Much of this work will not be glamorous. Runways will be cleaned and hardened; air conditioning repaired; and back-of-the-house maintenance, loading and other facilities upgraded at all major airports. But there will also be plenty that travelers will see, including at Honolulu International Airport:

A new, $139 million mauka concourse covering 250,000 square feet – bigger than four football fields – is due to open in spring 2013. It will set a new standard for quality, design, efficiency and aesthetics for the airport system, says Teresa Seaworth of Parsons, project manager for the concourse. The energy-efficient design will use natural ventilation and daylight illumination wherever possible, and extensive use of tropical flora, Hawaiian displays and panoramic views to create an airport unique to Hawaii.

A moving sidewalk will replace the Wiki Wiki bus system on the airport’s Ewa side and carry as many as 80 percent of arriving passengers along a glass-enclosed corridor, lined with art and vistas of the Koolau Mountains and Diamond Head. The first segment of this moving sidewalk has been completed; the remainder should be done by fall. Travelers arriving at the Diamond Head concourse, such as United Airlines passengers, will still use the Wiki Wiki buses, airport officials say, but these will be upgraded and air conditioned.

Inside the security gates will be new restaurants and other amenities, and the overseas terminal will get a food court outside security so local folks can sit and eat with loved ones before they depart.

The hodge-podge of rental car facilities that surround the airport will be replaced with a single structure where customers of most companies can pick up or drop off their rental vehicles and be shuttled to the airport.

One thing left out was the proposed “people mover” that would carry passengers around the terminals and to other destinations, says Brian Sekiguchi, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation responsible for airports. That project is too expensive with passenger arrivals down and money tight, he says. The upside is that this decision saves the open-air gardens that grace the center of the International Terminal.

This illustration shows planned new or newly completed facilities at Honolulu International Airport: 1. Mauka Concourse. 2. International arrivals Ewa corridor. 3. Hawaiian Airlines cargo building. 4. Hawaiian Airlines maintenance. 5. International parking structure. 6. Consolidated car rental area.
Illustration Courtesy of State Department of Transportation

Money is also being saved by refreshing the customs and immigration area rather than transforming it.

Seaworth says a lot of work is taking place behind the scenes, such as site preparation, moving explosive detectors away from passenger lobbies, and “hardening” tarmacs to handle bigger jets.

The overall $2.3 billion statewide price tag does not include the complete dream, Sekiguchi acknowledges. Proposed improvements to the existing concourses in Honolulu’s International Arrivals Terminal and other features have been put off.

Interestingly, none of the money for the projects is coming from state taxpayers or the state general fund. Bonds, largely financed by fees imposed on airlines and concessionaires, plus federal grants, are paying for the construction.


Honolulu International Airport

Cost of Completed projects

    •    $9.84 million Flight information and PA-system upgrade
    •    $13.7 million Diamond Head chilled-water plant for air conditioning:
    •    $9.8 million Replace passenger-loading bridges, phase. II
    •    $40.1 million New parking structure
    •    $275,720 Runway rubber removal
    •    $42.19 million Site prep for interisland maintenance facility:

Cost of current projects
(expected completion)

    •    $12 million Airfield electrical vault (June 2010)
    •    $12 million Common chilled-water loop (summer 2010)
    •    $4.4 million Replace access control and security cameras (Aug. 2010)
    •    $37 million International arrivals Ewa corridor (Oct. 2010)
    •    $10.9 million Replace passenger-loading bridges, phase III (fall 2010)
    •    $13.3 million Chiller-plant replacement at overseas terminal (Dec. 2010)
    •    $8.14 million Escalator improvements at overseas terminal (Aug. 2011)

Estimated cost of Future projects (start date)

    •    $2.2 million Taxiway B pavement repairs (notice to proceed forthcoming)
    •    $65 million Explosive detectors at overseas terminal (notice to proceed forthcoming)
    •    $16 million Mauka concourse site prep (Sept. 2010)
    •    $29.5 million Emergency power facility (unknown)
    •    $139 million New mauka concourse (2011, complete 2013)
    •    $229.4 million Consolidated rental car facility (2012, complete 2014)


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