Kona airport closed again

The Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport is shown in this undated photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Travelers coming to and leaving from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole were informed Tuesday morning that the airport was closed.

The state Department of Transportation announced the airport did not open as scheduled at 6 a.m. after overnight paving of the runway due to equipment malfunction and asphalt cooling.

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DOT said the shuttle buggy that transfers the paving material broke down. The contractor brought another in. However, the asphalt that was brought to the site had cooled to the point it could not be used, therefore additional asphalt needed to be produced at the Waimea plant and trucked to the site.

The contractor for the project is Jas W. Glover Ltd., and work is being performed through the Repair of Asphalt Concrete Pavement at KOA project.

DOT has been temporarily closing Runway 17-35 at the airport since last Thursday and until Tuesday, Feb. 27, between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. There are no alternate runways at KOA, and therefore the airport will remain closed for flight operations during the nighttime runway closure period.

In the event an emergency medical evacuation is needed, helicopter service out of KOA will be available. DOT has coordinated with the airlines and other partners to minimize impacts to flights. There are no commercial flights scheduled during the closure period according to DOT.

The runway closure is needed to conduct asphalt repairs to selected areas along the runway, specifically where aircraft perform turnaround motions. The DOT is taking this proactive measure in advance of a planned runway rehabilitation project that is expected to start in August.

Tuesday’s closure comes less than a month after the airport had to close for over 13 hours to repair cracks observed on the runway.

The airport opened just before 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Mainland flights were diverted to Oahu and Maui.

DOT spokesperson Russell Pang said bid requests were solicited in October 2022 to perform asphalt work at KOA on an “as-needed” basis. The fee proposal Glover was awarded totaled just over $3.58 million. This comes on the heels of a $120 million runway construction project for the entire 11,000 foot runway expected to start in August or September of this year and estimated to take about two years to complete. Work on that project will also take place at night.

He said there are penalty clauses in the contract for situations such as this and could result in fines or other penalties.

Pang said no work was to be performed Tuesday night.

“We are working with the contractor to have redundancies in place that will avoid delays in reopening the runway daily,” he said.

“The safety of our kama‘aina is of the utmost priority for our administration, and thus we applaud the foresight of the Hawaii Department of Transportation for their continued efforts to ensure safe access to our runway in Kona,” said Mayor Mitch Roth. “Making the difficult decision to close down the runway is one we know was not made lightly.

“While many of our residents’ travel plans were disrupted (Tuesday), we have faith that the state has resolved the issues at hand and that normal airport operations should be sustained moving forward.

“We appreciate the understanding and patience of our community as the State continues to work through this challenging situation.”