Friday, September 23, 2016

Officials say safety is the focus of plan for runway

   At least a hundred residents and community leaders attend Thursday night’s meeting at Kaunoa Senior Center on the draft master plan for Kahului Airport that calls for lengthening the main runway and shutting down parts of Haleakala Highway during the work.    

SPRECKLESVILLE - Kahului Airport's main runway has not undergone a major reconstruction since World War II, leading state Department of Transportation officials to advocate for an overhaul and extension of Maui's busiest runway during a packed community meeting Thursday night at the Kaunoa Senior Center.

At least a hundred people, including community activists, residents and International Longshore and Warehouse Union members, listened to state transportation officials present the draft master plan for the airport. The draft plan that extends to 2030 and beyond has a total price tag of nearly $3 billion.

"Health and safety are the most important things to the Department of Transportation, no matter what condition," Transportation Department Director Ford Fuchigami told the crowd. "The extension of the runway is all about our concern for the traveling public."

Plans call for the nearly 7,000-foot main runway to be extended by about 1,500 feet to help airlines and to provide safer conditions for passengers, officials said. For years, airlines have had to fly with less weight in order to take off and land on the runway safely.

Project Manager Chester Koga of R.M. Towill Corp. presented the department's current plan, which will be finalized in the next 30 days. Residents may submit comments on the 350-page plan, which will be followed up by an environmental impact statement.

Work on the master plan began in 1993, when the department sought to extend the main runway to about 9,600 feet, Koga said. The proposal fueled fierce debate about growth on Maui and was eventually abandoned by the department.

In 2009, master plan talks started up again, but officials chose not to seek the 9,600-foot extension again because the length, which would take the runway near Hana Highway, would violate new Federal Aviation Administration regulations for runway safety zones, Koga said. The department opted for a shorter extension - which would extend from the Kahului side of the runway - that still meets FAA requirements.

"This may or may not bother you but if you have taken a ride recently - especially when it's been rather gusty at the airport like today, you would have noticed that the Hawaiian (Airlines) plane lands somewhere around 1,000 feet from the end of the runway," he said. "You'll find that they tend to roll all the way to the end of the runway and when they make the left turn you'll actually see grass on the other side.

"There are some days when the pilot is really stepping on the brakes there to get the plane stopped."

The extended runway also would allow airlines to fly at maximum takeoff weight, meaning they would not have to reduce fuel or lighten cargo for Mainland flights, according to the draft plan.

Another major issue with the main runway is its deterioration over the past six years, Fuchigami said. He said that the department has been paying $1 million a year to patch and repair the asphalt runway and that the FAA recently decided to no longer pay for the repairs.

The department decided to spend $5 million on a temporary repair, which extended the runway's life by five years, giving the department time to work on a comprehensive airport master plan.

The department has decided to use concrete, which has a lifespan of 30 to 50 years, for the rebuilding of the main runway, he said. Most airports on the Mainland have concrete runways.

During reconstruction, a 7,000-foot taxiway will be improved to become a temporary runway. The portion of Haleakala Highway that wends around the airport would be closed, and transportation officials are working out how to direct traffic flow to the airport. A bypass connecting Alahao Street along Kanaha Beach Park to Stable Road and a widening of both roadways to accommodate increased traffic are being considered.

Sprecklesville residents voiced concerns about whether the runway extension will mean that flights will be traveling over their homes.

Fuchigami said that the department is not extending the smaller runway 5-23 that points directly over Sprecklesville, which "would've had a greater impact over anything else" to the neighborhood. However, he did acknowledge that planes from the main runway 2-20 generally will fly over the area.

Those testifying at the hearing also wondered if Maui would become another international airport and see increased traffic like Honolulu. Fuchigami said that "Maui is not even on our radar" for international flights. His efforts at opening international access to Hawaii, besides Honolulu International Airport, are aimed at Kona International Airport, he said.

Fuchigami added that the director of Transportation Security Administration will be traveling to Maui soon for the first time, and officials will be pushing for additional staffing, overtime pay and other things.

He said Kahului Airport will be getting a second scanner that will help speed up checkpoints.

"We think it's a huge step," he said.


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