Maui News

FAA Refuses to Pay for Kahului Runway Patching

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By Susan Halas


Satellite image of Kahului Airport. Image obtained from Google Maps.

Plans to repair and possibly expand the Kahului Airport runway are under discussion, following a notification that the FAA will no longer pay for patchwork repairs.

The main runway at the Kahului Airport, subject of a bitter dispute in the 1990s, is the subject of renewed interest by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and Maui lawmakers.

As early as January, Mauians will have the opportunity to make their own views known.

“FAA funds pay for repair and maintenance to the Kahului Airport runway,” said State Senator Shan Tsutsui (D) Maui. The Maui legislator said the FAA notified the DOT that it did not want to continue to pay for patchwork repairs to the aging runway and that more substantial improvements are needed.

FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor confirmed this, saying: “We notified [Hawaii’s Department of Transportation] that we consider this type of repair to be maintenance and it is not eligible for federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding.


“We suggested that a more permanent solution would be eligible for AIP funding, depending on the availability of those funds,” said Gregor.

About 60 days ago Tsutsui said he was told by the DOT that this issue (which had been under review during the administration of former governor Linda Lingle) was the subject of renewed consideration by the Abercrombie administration.

Tsutsui said that this was the first time he was aware of the degree of federal and state interest and as a result he invited Maui lawmakers to a Nov. 18 informational meeting with DOT officials at the Maui airport to get an update on state planning efforts.

Asked if the FAA intended to condemn the runway, Tsutsui responded, “I would say condemnation is too strong a word. They said we couldn’t keep patching it and had to fix it. The DOT brought us in to let us know where they were in their due diligence efforts. We appreciated the notice.”

A detailed explanation was forthcoming from DOT spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. He said the Maui runway situation had been playing in the background for “about two or three years.”


In January when the new administration took office, URS, an engineering design firm headquartered in San Francisco, was given the notice to proceed with a contract that had been awarded earlier. The scope of their work, Meisenzahl said, is to look at the runway needs and come up with a plan.

They were also instructed to look at all the alternatives including timeline and costs. He said that they presented a report in August but that Mauians were not notified at the time because, “We wanted to know all the possibilities before we took it to the governor, the Maui legislators and all the stakeholders.”

Meisenzahl said that over the last five years the FAA and the state have spent $1.3 million to patch the runway and also paid to resurface it in 2006.

“Now FAA‘s position is basically [that] we have to replace it.” He added that like other federal projects where costs are shared, it is expected that the FAA “would pick up 75 to 80%” of the bill, with the remainder coming from airport user fees and possibly bonds.

The URS report, he said, only pertains to the runway itself and offers a variety of possible scenarios. The DOT also needed to look at all the other different possibilities to make the improvements and keep the airport open at the same time.


One possibility is extending the secondary runway so there would be a runway long enough for planes to continue to land on Maui while the main runway was repaired.

The price tag for the fix varies, he said, from “$30 to $60 million for just the runway alone, but could be substantially more if we’re talking about an extension or what other combination of options might be chosen.

The DOT spokesman was that there is no immediate danger that the runway might be closed. “This is not a doom and gloom scenario,” he said. “The runway is more than adequate for the present and there is no way that that this will affect any incoming or outgoing flights.”

Both Tsutsui and Meisenzahl said given the need for an Environmental Impact Statement, Special Management Area permit, and financing considerations, the process is likely to take several years, and that the public would have multiple opportunities for all concerned including farmers, visitor industry and public to comment at every step.

“We want to do this right. We don’t want an adversarial situation,” Meisenzahl said adding the public review process would begin as early as January 2012.

The FAA said that the Kahului Airport runway is safe in its current condition, since Hawaii’s DOT had taken over management of patchwork repairs.

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