KALAELOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been rundown ever since the state took over the Kalaeloa Airport 15 years ago, but for first time commercial flights are taking off from there.
Mokulele Airlines today launched its Kalaeloa to Kahului, Maui services with three daily flights.
Over the next year, the Kailua-Kona-based carrier said it could expand service to Kapalua, Lanai and Molokai, with up to a dozen flights out of the west Oahu air strip.
"I can see this airport being as huge for us as it is in Honolulu, mainly because of its convenience," said Mokulele's CEO Ron Hansen.
Ilima Maiava of Kunia booked a seat on the inaugural flight, taking advantage of the $99 round-trip promotional fare.
"It's a way more convenient to come out here then go into town, pay for parking and worry about when we come back because of all of the traffic," he said.
"The fares are ... even better than what you would pay leaving out of Honolulu."
Local aviation historian Peter Forman said Mokulele is the first carrier to start regular passenger service out of Kalaeloa.
"This is a big event because we're seeing a second airport opening up for interisland flights," he said.
Kalaeloa has had a mixed record since the military handed over the airport to the state in 1999 after closing the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station.
It's currently used by flight schools and the military for training but the state has lapsed in its upkeep. Weeds cover parts of the tarmac, several windows at the airport's tower remain broken and it's parking lot is not big enough to handle large commuter and tourist traffic.
We asked Roy Sakata, one of the state's top airport officials, why it took so long to attract passenger service at Kalaeloa but he declined comment.
Mokulele, however, is optimistic that the increased business activity will attract more investment. Hansen says other former military air bases that were shutdown years ago have been successfully converted into commercial airports.
"Infrastructure improvements will come slowly," added Forman. "The important point is to get the economic activity first and the infrastructure will follow."