Hilo airport getting upgrades

  • In this 2018 photo, travelers claim their baggage after arriving at Hilo International Airport from Honolulu. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file)

HILO — The Hilo International Airport will have a new air-conditioning system thanks to a $23.8 million capital improvement project.

One of several Big Island capital improvement projects proposed by the state Legislature earlier this year, the project would grant $800,000 for airport improvements next fiscal year and another $23 million the subsequent fiscal year.

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Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who is chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the project is a continuation of a previous project to improve the air-conditioning within the mezzanine level of the airport. That project ran out of money before it could be completed.

The funds would also be used to improve the fire-suppression system within the same part of the airport, along with a host of deferred repair and maintenance projects throughout the terminal.

“The Hilo airport has really been neglected compared to other airports, because it’s not a money-maker for the airlines,” Inouye said.

However, Inouye stressed that the airport is still an international airport, as well as the fastest way for the east side of the island to access Oahu in case of emergency, meaning that it is imperative to make sure it receives the same level of maintenance as the state’s other airports.

Also included in the list of capital improvement projects is a $53.9 million project to make various improvements at Hilo Harbor. Those changes include purchasing land near the harbor’s pier entrances in order to improve traffic flow and moving the harbor office into the existing customs building.

Inouye said these improvements are a prelude to a project to add an additional pier — pier No. 5 — to the harbor. That pier, which Inouye assured will take years to approve and construct, would allow the harbor to accommodate larger cruise ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, a 5,000-passenger cruise ship that docked in Honolulu earlier this month.

By comparison, Hilo Harbor’s most frequent cruise visitor, Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America, holds only 2,000 passengers.

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Inouye said that whenever pier No. 5 is completed, the current pier accommodating cruise ships will be used for commercial ship traffic.

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

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