Airport improvements continue

KAILUA-KONA — With a new year just around the corner, improvements at the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole continue.

That includes ongoing modernization work and upcoming construction of an inspection facility at the region’s airport.

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Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Transportation said earlier this month that the terminal modernization project is about 70 percent complete.

Construction on that effort kicked off in March 2017 and is intended to improve a number of facets throughout the airport, improving travelers’ experience as well as streamlining operations.

That includes relocating checked-baggage screening operations away from the ticket lobbies and building a single, enclosed and air-conditioned 7-lane checkpoint.

The effort will also connect the north and south terminals to allow passengers to move freely throughout both for shopping and dining, Sakahara said.

At the time of the groundbreaking, DOT explained that the two terminals operate independently, meaning passengers must go through security a second time if they leave one and enter the other.

Sakahara said other improvements are planned for the concession area and restrooms.

The Flight Information Display System and public address system have been recently finished, he said, as has replacement of terminal flooring and drainage improvements.

The next big project planned is the permanent federal inspection station, for which construction is expected to begin late spring or early summer, Sakahara said.

Lawmakers in April OK’d $69 million to build a permanent federal inspection station, where passengers and baggage coming in from foreign countries can be screened. The funds will cover construction of that facility as well as a holdroom building and ground transportation and covered waiting area, according to news files.

In June it was reported that Honolulu-based Nan Inc. submitted the apparently low bid at $54.6 million.

Work is expected to take about 18 months, putting the completion date at late summer or early fall 2020.

The facility must be completed by the end of 2021 to meet a December 2016 agreement between the state and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That agreement allowed the airport to continue using for up to five years the white tent that currently houses the inspection station.

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Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines said that company’s work toward entering Hawaii is still ongoing.

He said Southwest is “in the final stages of an authorization dialogue” with the Federal Aviation Administration to run flights between Hawaii and the mainland, and once received, Southwest will have more details about schedules and fares.