HILO — Gov. David Ige has released $40.4 million for improvements to the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, state Sen. Lorraine Inouye announced Monday.
The money goes toward terminal improvements at the airport to increase capacity, efficiency and security for passengers. Currently, there are two major terminals and checkpoints. The new design will consolidate that into one terminal and central checkpoint to expedite passenger flow, said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige.
Inouye, a North Hawaii Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said she appreciated Ige releasing the money.
“I want to thank Governor Ige for making these funds available to help Kona’s residents and visitors alike,” Inouye said in a statement. “This is a great investment for the future of Kona International Airport.”
At a March 2017, groundbreaking, the $97 million project was estimated to be completed in February of this year. Completion is now set for February 2020.
The 77,000-square-foot terminal will include additional concession space and a baggage system to accommodate oversized bags for events such as the Ironman.
Improvements include one centralized security area, a six-lane passenger screening checkpoint building to expedite the processing of outbound passengers and reduce the time spent in line.
Baggage screening will also undergo improvements as the new inline baggage handling system will employ an explosive detection system for baggage screening, which will improve work efficiency for the Transportation Security Administration and airport operations. That’s now in operation, processing some 5,000 bags per day.
Additional features include new restrooms in both the public area before screening and in the terminal areas. The project also includes two covered bag drop areas for added convenience.
Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport is the third-busiest of Hawaii’s 15 airports, behind Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and Maui’s Kahului Airport.
The Kona airport is heavily used for inter-island travel and trans-Pacific flights to the U.S. mainland, Canada and Japan.
It is also an important stop for private aviation operations on Hawaii Island.
Ige has also envisioned the Big Island airport as an important destination for international flights, helping relieve the pressure on the busy Honolulu airport. More than three million passengers travel through Kona annually.
The improvement is part of the state’s $2.7 billion project to improve facilities at airports statewide.
Inouye said the improvements are the first step in a process that she hopes will include a statewide airport authority to better manage the airports. The authority would oversee the state’s seven commercial airports, taking over from the Department of Transportation.
It would streamline the decision-making process for the state’s airports by centralizing responsibility for the airports into a single body, she said. Inouye plans to reintroduce a bill next legislative session to establish the airport authority, having so far been unsuccessful in getting her legislative colleagues to agree.
“I’m doing the best I can getting our airports in shape even without the airport authority,” Inouye said.