The fate of Kawaihapai (aka Dillingham) Airfield is uncertain at this time, but I remain hopeful something can be worked out to save general aviation and hundreds of jobs on the North Shore. I have had, and continue to have, meetings with all stakeholders, government officials and aviation related associations.
Tragically, we lost two wonderful men in the recent tow plane crash. Rick Rogers and Bill Enoka devoted their lives to flying and they loved to fly at Kawaihapai. Rick was a retired Hawaiian Airlines pilot and historian. Old timers smile and remember him as Captain Haleiwa. Bill was a retired firefighter and flight instructor who taught hundreds of new pilots through the Civil Air Patrol. They loved to share their love of aviation.
In response to the few people who claim the airfield is dangerous and must be immediately closed, I would note fatal car accidents occur from time to time, yet nobody demands closure of the freeways. We must always work to improve safety, but accidents can happen.
Since word broke that the Department of Transportation Airports Division (DOTA) decided to close the airfield, I have heard numerous first-person accounts about mismanagement and aggressive tactics by the Airports Division throughout the state.
A few years ago, DOTA wrote criminal citations against airplane owners at Honolulu International for having golf clubs and bicycles in their hangers. Some of these people were in jeopardy of losing their commercial pilot, attorney, and other professional licenses if convicted of criminal activity. One guy went to court 28 times to fend off multiple citations and court deferrals by the department.
Kawaihapai Airfield is home to 11 businesses and 130 employees that generate more than $13 million dollars for our local economy. This is the most popular skydiving site in the world based on the number of jumps per day. The hills provide the perfect lift for glider rides. There is nowhere for these businesses to relocate; they will all be bankrupt! The airfield is needed for new pilots to learn how to fly. Pilots, airplane mechanics and related jobs provide good incomes. Kawaihapai Airfield is a worth fighting for.
I am hopeful that a new management structure can be created, but it will take at least a year to work out the details. We should also be able to address DOTA’s concern about management of the water system. The insistence by DOTA to hurry up and shut down the airfield by June 30th, without any prior warning or opportunity to save the airfield is unconscionable.
I am hopeful a brighter day will come to Kawaihapai Airfield with a management structure that supports general aviation. It may be a struggle to get DOTA to allow the appropriate time to transition, but our united community has defied the odds and succeeded many times before. Let’s do this.