Hawaii's airline industry is backing a proposal to transfer the state's airports to a semi-independent airport authority.
But public employee unions worry about job losses and a lack of transparency.
Senate Bill 658 would place the airports under the management of a state agency run by a CEO and a nine-member board, which would handle all of the major contracting decisions.
Blaine Miyasato, co-chair of the Airlines Committee of Hawaii, said the move is needed because state procurement laws are causing delays to major construction projects and small repairs alike.
"When moving walkways don't work, the bathrooms are in desperate need of repair, even the Wiki Wiki bus experience leaves a lot to be desired," he said.
A key example of the procurement lag: The new car rental facility at the Diamond Head side of Honolulu International Airport was originally supposed to be completed this year. But that has been pushed back to 2020, partly because of a bid protest.
And last year, construction on Hawaiian Airlines' new cargo and maintenance facility was halted after the state fired contractor DCK because it wasn't paying its subcontractors. Hawaiian has since taken over the project.
"We hear it all the time. It's a standard sort of remark that this is close to a third-world country airport," said Miyasato.
Travelers agreed that Honolulu International leaves much to be desired.
"All around it could use a little bit more aloha, a little bit more," said John Peko of Boise, Idaho:
Added Iwilei resident Linda Witherup: "It is really confusing and when you come back in it's confusing to know where the street is, where you're supposed to go."
But the state's largest public employee union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, has testified against the measure.
"The public interest at our airports would be better served … through improved collaboration among state agencies," said HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira.