Airport to get cooler, easier with walkway
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By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Leidemann
International passengers at Honolulu's airport will soon have an air-conditioned moving walkway to whisk them between the main terminal and their gates, officials said Friday.
The long-planned "people mover" system at the airport will be included in a $10 million project to improve the arrival experience of thousands of passengers from Japan and other places who end their lengthy flight with a long walk or hot, noisy bus ride to get from their plane to the immigration and customs area, officials said.
"It will give them a much different first impression of Hawai'i," said Marsha Weinert, the state's tourism liaison.
The state Transportation Department last week sought bidders for the project, which calls for building an enclosed, air-conditioned corridor over the existing elevated roadway and adjacent walkway that leads to the gates of the 'ewa concourse, said DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa.
When complete, the moving walkway will extend the length of the concourse and link it to the overseas and interisland terminals.
"They'll have the option of riding on the walkway or taking a leisurely stroll from the gate," Weinert said.
In addition to improving the visitor's arrival experience, the project has other benefits, officials said.
Weinert noted that the change will free up airline employees who often have to guide passengers to the Wikiwiki buses and wait for them to board.
"It will be a lot more operationally efficient for the airlines," she said.
Ishikawa said the project, expected to start this summer and be completed within 18 months, will lower the need to maintain and operate buses and will reduce the time it takes for arriving international passengers to clear customs and immigration, sometimes a sore spot with tourism industry officials and frustrated passengers.
"Approximately 80 percent of the international flights arrive at the 'ewa concourse," Ishikawa said, noting that the wait to board a Wikiwiki bus is included in the official processing time compiled by customs officials.
The time for an arriving international passenger to pass through customs and immigration averaged 33 minutes last week, a little longer than the national average, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site.
"The new moving walkway could help reduce that time. We'll have to wait and see," said Jim Kosciuk, the federal customs agency spokesman in Honolulu.
Kosciuk said the federal agency has worked closely with state officials to meet security concerns in construction of the new corridor.
"Basically, we'll have a secure controlled area from the gates to the international arrivals building," he said.
Weinert said there are no immediate plans to build a similar people-moving system on the airport's diamondhead concourse, which mainly serves flights to and from the U.S. Mainland.
"There are bigger long-term plans to reconfigure that part of the airport. It's more pragmatic to leave it intact for now," she said.
The people-mover project is just one part of an estimated $1.9 billion in planned Honolulu airport improvements over the next 12 years announced in March by Gov. Linda Lingle.
State transportation officials plan to replace the moving walkway and all Wikiwiki buses with a people-moving rail system, Lingle said.
Similar long-term airport improvements have been announced twice in the past 15 years. Once they were delayed by the state's economic downtown in the early 1990s; later they were postponed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused a sharp decline in tourism and airport revenues.
According to the administration, funding for the new project will come from federal grants and airport fees.
Reach Mike Leidemann at email@example.com.