Federal funds help speed up modernization at Hawaii airports

Ford Fuchigami

Five major airport runway projects totaling more than $520.7 million are moving forward at Hawaii airports this year due to an increase in federal dollars made possible by new types of grant programs, some of which provide multiple awards for a single project.

The state Department of Transportation’s Airports Administrator Ford Fuchigami said the Biden administration has made new types of federal grant programs available, which has accelerated key airport modernization projects, including the runway projects, across the state.


He said billions in federal funding are available to airports across the nation through grants programs, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Airport Improvement Program and Supplemental Discretionary grants. Since 2022, he said, the state has benefited from being able to pursue multiple grants for single projects.

“There’s so much more federal dollars that are available to us, and it’s very important that we capture those federal dollars. By capturing those federal dollars, what it does is that it reduces the fees that the airlines have to pay to keep the airport running,” Fuchigami said during a recent airport update at the 2024 Annual Outlook &Economic Forecast Forum for the Hawaii chapters of the Pacific Asia Travel Association and the Travel and Tourism Research Association.

Since Hawaii airports are self-sufficient and special-funded, and do not receive state general fund money, Fuchigami said having additional federal funding available “has made a tremendous step for us in terms of moving forward.”

“We wouldn’t be able to do (five) runway projects this year if it weren’t for the federal grants,” he said, adding that other sources of revenue come from revenue bonds and revenue from tenants, airlines and concessionaires.

The runway projects are part of more than 60 projects with a collective cost estimate of $1.73 billion in the state’s airports modernization plan, which spans the Hawaiian Islands. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser recently had a chance to look at some of them in Honolulu during a private tour led by Fuchigami at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Fuchigami said those projects, which started in 2009 and are expected to run through 2030, aim “to meet a basket of priorities, including preserving existing assets, providing additional capacity for air traffic needs, enhancing safety and security, achieving sustainability and improving customer service, among other objectives.”

They range from minimizing light attraction impacts to threatened and endangered seabirds, to human safety concerns like fixing Kona’s only runway, which disrupted flights and stranded dozens of passengers when it was shut down from late afternoon Jan. 15 to early morning Jan. 16 to repair runway cracks.

“Recently, I had to shut down the (Kona) runway because of the situation where a pothole popped up because of the weather. But because of the fact that we are able to get multiple federal grants, it’s going to be that much easier to move these projects forward,” Fuchigami said.

He said the $87.6 million runaway project at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole already was on the books before the closure. Fuchigami said a construction contract has been awarded, and the project is slated to start in November. The state has submitted fiscal year 2024 applications for a multiyear federal grant for more than $16.8 million and another application for more than $48.4 million.

The state is 84% complete with the $136 million Honolulu Runway 8L Widening, Phase 2. Fuchigami said the state now is working on closing out the project. The project is supported by more than $110.2 million across two federal grants.

He said the state has received $52 million across two federal grants to relocate Lihue Runaway 3-21, which is estimated to cost $166 million. Fuchigami added that the state has applied for another $83 million federal grant, and is optimistic that it will be approved with $20 million to come at first.

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