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New lawmaking session could advance 'Save Dillingham' effort

The groups and individuals working to prevent Hawaii’s Dillingham Airfield on Oahu from reverting from a general aviation airport to exclusive military use are gearing up for a new legislative session with a plan taking shape while their advocacy faces limited access to lawmakers because of security concerns and the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Kawaihapai Airfield, also known as Dillingham Airfield, is a popular tourist attraction for glider rides, skydiving, and flying lessons. The airfield is under threat of closure. Photo by Lindsay Wheeler.

With the Hawaii legislature set to convene for the 2021 lawmaking session January 20, the state Capitol is mainly off limits to the public. That has complicated the effort to support Dillingham Airfield, which has been under threat of closure to GA since state transportation officials notified the U.S. Army and the FAA of the state’s intention to end the operating lease with the military this June instead of in 2025.

That development has touched off a powerful mobilization of airport supporters—backed by AOPA—determined to prevent a serious economic blow to GA and tourism in Hawaii. Dillingham Airfield is home to 11 businesses that inject $12 million into the local economy, according to one of its legislative supporters, state Sen. Gil Riviere (D-District 23), a member of the Energy, Economic Development, Tourism, and Technology Committee. It is also known as a world-class destination for skydivers.

AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Melissa McCaffrey urged airport advocates to remain “geared up and ready” to pitch in for the advocacy effort, which may take the form of legislation to establish an airport authority to run Dillingham Airfield—the only airport in the Hawaii airport system not owned by the state.

“AOPA believes that this would be the best solution for a prosperous future for general aviation at Dillingham, and we will be strongly supporting legislation expected to be introduced at the start of the 2021 Hawaii legislative session,” she said.

An app to fill the gap

If the lack of direct access to lawmakers presents an obstacle as the legislative session’s opening approaches, technology could bridge the gap between Dillingham’s defenders and elected officials. A new Find Your Legislator app accessible from the homepage of the legislature’s website could play a vital role in airport supporters’ communication of support and providing lawmakers with information, as the save-the-airport effort moves into what McCaffrey calls its “most important two months.”

“This new tool will help the public find information about their legislators in both houses of the state legislature, and details for contacting them,” she said. “The tool is a welcome addition to an already excellent, user-friendly website that allows members of the public to track legislation, submit testimony, and find detailed information about their elected representative, such as their committee assignments and districts.”

AOPA ePublishing staff

AOPA ePublishing Staff editors are experienced pilots, flight instructors, and aircraft owners who have a passion for bringing you the latest news and AOPA announcements.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, COVID19

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