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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 8, 2007

Honolulu airport getting $2.3B makeover

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The new Starbuck's Coffee outlet near the entrance to the international departure area was welcomed by travelers at the airport.

Photos by JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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An improved Wiki Wiki bus, a people mover and electric carts to transport disabled or elderly travelers are among airport projects.

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New Wiki Wiki bus
Eighty-passenger air-conditioned and diesel-powered tractor-trailer buses with delivery of pilot vehicle for testing expected by February 2008. Remaining seven vehicles to arrive within next year.

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People-mover Project
Third Level International Arrivals Corridor project consists of building an enclosed air- conditioned corridor that will allow international arrival passengers who deplane from gates 26-34 in the ‘Ewa Concourse to walk to the Federal Inspection Station in the Ewa Extension of the Overseas Terminal.

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Electric cart assist
Three electric vehicles that can carry up to six passengers each in a form of transportation most similar to a big golf cart that can help tote passengers — such as those in wheelchairs, those who need help walking or families with small children — for free from the checkpoint to the gates.

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Airlines are charging more for and offering less food. HMSHost is planning to invest $8 million on concessions at the airport through 2014.

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These are some of the improvements planned by the state at the airport:

  • People-mover project

    The Third Level International Arrivals Corridor project consists of building an enclosed air conditioned corridor that will allow international arrival passengers who deplane from Gates 26-34 in the 'Ewa Concourse — where 80 percent of international passengers arrive — to walk to the Federal Inspection Station in the 'ewa extension of the Overseas Terminal. This will eliminate the need for the Wiki Wiki Bus service in that area.

    When: Bids were opened on March 22. Construction expected to begin September and take two years to complete.

    Cost: More than $30 million.

    Prime design consultant: CDS International

  • New Wiki Wiki Bus (two types)

    Contract: Solderholm Sales and Leasing

    What: Plan to buy eight 80-passenger air-conditioned and diesel-powered tractor-trailer buses with delivery of pilot vehicle for testing expected by Feb. 2008. Remaining seven vehicles within the next year.

    Cost: About $5 million

    What: Plan to buy three 26-passenger smaller buses, also air-conditioned. First to arrive in August.

    Cost: About $900,000

  • New parking structure

    Add at least 1,000 parking stalls in new garage to be located in open-air lot between inter-island and overseas parking.

    When: Break ground later this year.

    Cost: $27 million, and an additional $16 million is in the proposed budget pending legislative approval.

  • In-Line Explosive Detection System

    Phase 1: Integrate security screening with other baggage handling at the Interisland Terminal, relocating the screening equipment to the airport's lower level, getting it out of the ticket lobby and helping to ease the line as well as the look.

    Cost: $16 million contract awarded to Western Engineering.

    When: Construction began April 2006 and tentatively scheduled for completion in September 2007.

    Phase 2: Shift security screening to behind the counters at the Overseas Terminal.

    When: Design scheduled to be completed in June. Cost to follow.

  • Electric Cart Assist

    The state has purchased three electric vehicles that can carry up to six passengers each in a form of transportation most similar to a big golf cart that can help tote passengers for free from the checkpoint to the gates. The cart is an added service which can handle a passenger in a wheelchair but its designed to help those who might use a cane or be traveling with young children.

    The cart operates daily from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. One has been working for the past few weeks, helping 150-200 people daily with two more expected to arrive in the next several weeks.

    Cost: Each cart cost $31,925.20 for a total of $95,776. The state purchased them from E-Vehicles of Hawaii.

    Source: state Department of Transportation

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    Within two years, an air-conditioned people mover will take international travelers from their gates at Honolulu International Airport to customs and immigration, new buses will replace old, and a wider variety of restaurants will be available, from sandwich shops to a sit-down eatery pouring locally brewed beers as part of a decade of long-awaited improvements.

    Hawai'i's main airport remains a key concern for the state's number one private industry: both for officials and customers.

    The airport was scheduled for a round of major improvements before Sept. 11, 2001, when the travel world changed instantly and irrevocably.

    After that, revenue plummeted as travel stumbled and then slowly recovered. But tightened security meant only ticketed passengers passed through the airport lobbies into the stores and restaurants at the gates. Businesses suddenly faced fewer customers who were often there for at least twice as long as before.

    State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert has heard the complaints from travelers, and the state has begun a makeover that will cost $2.3 billion over the next 10 years. Last week, she said they're making progress but still have a number of steps to go.

    Wienert highlights the moves away from the hot, outdated Wiki Wiki buses, better food throughout the airport, a people mover for international arrivals and shifting baggage screening out of the ticket lobbies to behind the counters.

    "To me that's going to make a huge impression," Wienert said. "It will eliminate the need to be herded onto the buses."

    Travelers still have a mixed impression of the airport.

    Robert Brindza, who serves in the Army at Schofield Barracks, said he's seen some improvements in the type of food offered and the overall look of the airport in about 20 trips to the airport in his six years in the Islands.

    "It's for the better," Brindza said. "There's a lot more available for passengers to get something to eat or buy gifts before they leave."

    But he and his family ran out of options when they cleared security and then waited for an hour for another traveler to arrive. "Once you get out of there was no place to get food," he said and they wandered around until they found a new Starbuck's outside the overseas ticket lobby.

    "This Starbuck's was a lifesaver," he said. It was the sixth Starbuck's to open at Honolulu's airport in recent years, and one more is scheduled.

    But Brindza was impressed with the people who work there and getting smoothly through long lines. "Even when the lines are clear out to here sometimes, it still seems to go fast."

    His sister-in-law, Patti Monaco, was visiting from Western Pennsylvania. She was wowed by the overall garden atmosphere once they got clear of the jetways. "It's smaller than I thought but it's beautiful," she said. "It really makes you feel like you're someplace different."

    State Deputy Transportation Director Brian Sekiguchi acknowledges that many of the changes at the airport have been a long time coming. "But we are trying our best to move these projects forward as quickly as possible," he said.

    Sekiguchi said the airport is moving away from dependence on the Wiki Wiki buses, which he said were put in place in February 1970 as "an interim measure." More than three decades later, travelers are still complaining about the hot, slow, outdated buses.

    "The buses were never intended to operate for as long as they have and that has been part of our challenge," Sekiguchi said. "Not only are they somewhat inconvenient and uncomfortable, they also put a huge strain on our building structure due to their weight and level of activity."

    Building a people mover and buying modern air-conditioned buses should help, and the buses will continue to provide transportation at curbside between terminals.

    Some of the changes are smaller and less expensive. The state just started running a free six-person electric cart to help folks get around the airport who may have trouble on their own.

    Security calls for travelers to arrive at the airport at least two hours early for most overseas flights.

    With airlines charging more and offering less for food, the concessions have become more important. HMSHost Corp. recently extended its lease with Honolulu's airport through 2014 with a commitment to invest at least $8 million over that time.

    "We have to do something that makes the experience better," said spokeswoman Rana Florida. "Airlines are cutting back."

    She said the company wants to offer travelers a place to relax, where they can "get a healthy meal, get a great meal. We want to offer them choices."

    The company's Hawai'i district general manager, Alan Yamamoto, said the company aims for a balance of top brands like the ever-present Starbuck's, Quizno's and the popular Cold Stone Creamery ice cream stores but still offer local flavors, such as the Island Brews and Pizza restaurant that will open in two places in the airport, serving locally brewed beer and casual food.

    In the next few years, travelers can also expect to see a Gordon Biersch, a Mexican restaurant, maybe even a fine-dining restaurant with regional cuisine trailblazer and chef Alan Wong, Yamamoto said.

    The company also is talking with rock-n-roll guitarist/restaurateur Sammy Hagar possibly opening a Sammy's Beach Bar & Grill. Hagar, who lives on Maui, has told Yamamoto that he's interested and would be looking to donate some of the proceeds from the restaurant to local charities.

    But for all the improvements and changes, visitors often rely on the treatment they get from just one person to form a lasting impression.

    German visitor Gunter Geist, of Wurzburg, came away angry when the United Airlines agent who checked him in told him his bag was two pounds over the 50-pound limit.

    "I was mad," he said, so he responded by pulling out enough souvenirs to drop the weight.

    "I loved Hawai'i, but I don't come again," he said. "I've been here seven times but this was the last time."

    Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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