Legislature tries a third time for airport bill

  • A Hawaiian Airlines plane arrives Tuesday in Hilo from Honolulu. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Travelers claim their baggage after arriving Tuesday at Hilo International Airport from Honolulu.

HILO — The state Legislature has once again introduced a bill that would establish a dedicated airport governing body.

Senate Bill 2996 is the third measure since 2016 that would create a Hawaii airport corporation to manage the state’s airports instead of the Department of Transportation.


State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, said this bill hopefully will succeed where previous attempts have failed.

“We have the blessing of the Department of Transportation and the governor this time,” Inouye said. “The last ones we tried weren’t sanctioned by the department.”

The bill, if passed, would establish an airport corporation that would take over management of all seven of the state’s commercial airports. The corporation would be led by a board of nine governor-appointed members, who would themselves appoint a chief executive officer.

Gordon Takaki, president-elect of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, said the bill would allow for much greater efficiency in how airports change.

“Right now, making any improvement to an airport takes a lot of time,” Takaki said. Inouye agreed, saying nearly any airport-related decision must go through several state agencies before it can be enacted.

“I think that’s not good because the condition of our airports compared to the mainland is not good,” Inouye said. “Especially because millions of people fly into and visit Hawaii every year — they should have good airports, they should have clean bathrooms.”

As the bill stands, the corporation would collect funds through airline landing fees and would effectively have total authority over all aspects of airport management, from budgets to land management to contracting and more.

Takaki said the improved efficiency of the corporation would allow new vendors to set up business in an airport far more quickly than going through the state procurement office. With less red tape, Takaki said, the corporation would be more business-friendly and thus have the full support of the Chamber of Commerce.

Inouye said there is some pushback against the creation of an airport corporation. In particular, several trade associations have opposed language that would exempt the corporation from elements of the state procurement code. The associations argue that funding through public travel fees constitute “public funds” and thus are required to be handled in accordance to the procurement code. Inouye said the bill will be amended to alleviate such concerns.

Most state departments — including the state procurement office — are in support of the bill, and Inouye said the future of the bill “looks good.”


However, if the bill passes, changes to the state’s airports will still be a long way away. According to the bill, establishment of the corporation can happen as late as July 2021.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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