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Hawaii DOT to force tenants to vacate Dillingham Airfield by 2021

The Hawaii Department of Transportation announced it will terminate its lease with the U.S. Army and force tenants including flight schools and tour operators to vacate Dillingham Airfield on Oahu by 2021.

For four decades, Dillingham Airfield has been leased from the U.S. Army to HDOT, leaving it open to civil aviation. However, a February announcement revealed the agency’s plans to transfer the airport back to military management—leaving the viability of 11 airport businesses and their 130 employees up in the air. Originally, tenants were given until June 30, 2020, to vacate, but after several letters from AOPA and various stakeholders calling the timeframe unreasonable, especially in the midst of a national emergency with COVID-19, the deadline was extended another year.

HDOT’s decision to terminate the lease was unexpected as the agency remains obligated under Airport Improvement Program grants until 2025, but the state is apparently willing to accept any fines from the FAA for early termination. In an April 22 letter, HDOT listed several factors in its decision including “the uncertainty of the short-term lease, risk of losing federal funds, water system issues, and lack of authority over the facility.” 

Since learning of the potential civil aviation closure at the airfield, AOPA has been actively working to support an airport-specific authority that would be established through legislation to step in and allow continued joint use of Dillingham. Additionally, AOPA continues to head a task force working to develop solutions to sustain civil aviation into the future.

Today, recreational flying and skydiving businesses account for most of the operations at Dillingham, with an occasional military training flight. Many general aviation operations on the field rely on the forgiving terrain and uncongested airspace that nearby airports could not replace. Also, glider businesses that are affected by airspace restrictions have no other alternatives.

In a letter to HDOT Director Jade Butay, 27 Hawaii state legislators wrote, “Those businesses generate more than 12 million dollars in revenue and attract over 50,000 visitors annually to the airfield and the North Shore. Over 37,000 air operations were completed last year.”

In the meantime, AOPA continues its efforts to educate leaders, local communities, and all involved about the airport and the positive benefits it brings to the state of Hawaii. 

“Dillingham is an irreplaceable piece of infrastructure for Hawaii and its local communities,” said AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Melissa McCaffrey. “It would be a shame to cease general aviation operations that contribute millions to Hawaii’s economic output. AOPA is doing everything in its power to ensure general aviation continues to thrive at this treasured airport for decades to come.”

Amelia Walsh
Communications and Research Specialist
AOPA Comms and Research Specialist Amelia Walsh joined AOPA in 2017. Named after the famous aviatrix, she's a private pilot working on her instrument rating in a Colombia 350.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, FAA Funding

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