$2.3B in airport upgrades planned
By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer
By Treena Shapiro
Streamlined security screening, better transportation between terminals and more parking spaces are part of a $2.3 billion plan to update five airports across the state over the next 12 years.
Gov. Linda Lingle announced details of the plan yesterday before state legislators, who in general applauded but asked how the work would be paid for.
The airport improvements are long-awaited and much-needed, and have been put off twice because of economic downturns caused by the first Gulf War, then the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, increased passenger loads, heightened security and just general aging have made the need for improvements more pressing, especially as more trans-Pacific flights travel directly to Neighbor Island airports, which were not built to accommodate all the larger passenger planes.
"Airports in general have and do need constant care, but (Hawai'i airports) haven't been getting much care recently, so it's very important," said Rex Johnson, CEO of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority.
"The airport is the first impression and the last impression. From a tourism standpoint, having a nice airport is very important."
The bulk of the upgrades — $1.9 billion worth — will be at Honolulu International Airport.
Some of the changes include replacing the 30-year-old airline gates with modern, more convenient alternatives.
While short-term projects include replacing WikiWiki buses and installing moving sidewalks, a longer-range plan is to create a people-mover rail system.
Airports in Kahului, Maui; Kona and Hilo, Hawai'i; and Lihu'e, Kaua'i; as well as Honolulu, will get new in-line explosive-detection systems behind the ticket counters, which will help ease congestion in ticket lobbies.
Those in the tourism industry say the state's airports need to make a better impression.
"The buildings are tired. We can't deny that," said John DeCoster, chairman of the Airline Committee of Hawai'i. "During crunch time, we don't have enough capacity to serve the traveling public."
Complaints also come from visitors.
"Visitor satisfaction data shows that the airport satisfaction levels have consistently decreased through the years," state tourism liaison Marsha Weinert said.
According to the administration, funding for the project will come from federal grants and airport fees. The airline industry would cover more than half the cost, which is likely to mean higher prices for flights.
Those presenting the plans yesterday said an upgraded airport was worth the expense.
While Rep. Joe Souki, D-8th (Wailuku, Waiehu), questioned whether financially struggling airlines would be able to cover $80 million to $100 million a year in debt service, DeCoster asked, "How can we afford not to?"
No estimates were available yesterday as to how much the increase in airport fees would add to the average cost per flight.
"I think you always want to keep fares as low as possible while giving people a safe, modern airport, and it's a balance of those two issues," Lingle said. "We're confident that people, when they see the improvements to the airport, will recognize that they do have to be paid for."
Reach Treena Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.