(BIVN) – State Senators are hoping to pass a bill this legislative session that will establish a Hawaii Airports Corporation, as lawmakers question some of the issues at Hilo International Airport.
During a recent Senate Ways and Means Commitee briefing, chair Donovan Dela Cruz focused the discussion on airports “that are not generating enough revenue to cover its operational costs, like Hilo Airport.”
“My understanding is Hilo Airport generates about $7 million dollars but costs about $14 million dollars,” Sen. Dela Cruz said, asking if there is a plan “to try to figure out how these other airports can start to generate more revenue.”
“Hilo Airport actually has a clause in the lease agreement that until the such time that they actually hit 2 million passengers, they’re being subsidized at 50%,” said Ford Fuchigami, the governor’s Administrative Director and Chief of Staff. Fuchigami said he’s been working with the airlines directly to bring more visitors into Hilo, but the hotel accommodations in East Hawaiʻi are lacking.
“If we don’t look at it more holistically, we’re always stuck in these silos, and have the same problems” said Sen. Dela Cruz, adding that he never sees the Department of Transportation comment on any of the Banyan Drive revitalization bills that come before the legislature.
“The other challenge with Hilo is that the cargo space is empty,” Sen. Dela Cruz said. “So, what is airports doing to either work with DBEDT or Department of Ag or CTAHR to kind of get maybe more ornamentals or whatever the case in Hilo, just so we can start using the cargo space for export/import.”
Senator Kai Kahele, who also sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said that one of the main cargo bay doors “was broken and was completely inoperative” within a week of one of the tenants moving in.
“We spend millions of dollars in contracts to build these facilities,” Sen. Kahele said, asking what is the contractors’ responsibility to provide warranties. Kahele also said one of the locking docks was built the wrong way, and is “completely substandard”.
“That is why being an airport corporation would make a big difference for us,” Fuchigami said.
Senators Kahele and Dela Cruz have joined Hawaiʻi Island senators Lorriane Inouye and Dru Kanuha in introducing Senate Bill 666, relating to an airports corporation. According to the bill description, SB666:
Authorizes establishment of the Hawaii Airports Corporation within the Department of Transportation for administrative purposes. Sets out appointment of members to the board of directors and powers and duties of the Hawaii Airports Corporation. Transfers aeronautics functions of the Department of Transportation to the Hawaii Airports Corporation by the established transfer completion date agreed upon by the Hawaii Airports Corporation, the Director of Transportation, and the Governor, which shall be no later than 12/31/2022. Appropriates funds.
The bill will be heard by the on Senate Committee on Transportation, chaired by Sen. Inouye, on January 30 at 1:15 p.m. in conference room 225.