HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Uncertainty over the future of Dillingham Airfield has increased in recent weeks. And in light of Saturday’s latest tragedy, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is calling for it to be shut down.
Hours after a crash that killed 2 men Saturday, Sen. Schatz issued a statement saying:
"Our hearts are with those affected by today’s tragic accident. It has become clear that Dillingham Airfield cannot continue to operate safely. Our obligation is to keep people safe, and the only way to do that is to keep the airfield closed. I urge the FAA and HDOT to shut down the airfield until they can guarantee safety of operations at Dillingham.”
But the area’s state lawmaker disagrees.
“I take exactly the opposite position. This is the reason why the airfield needs to stay open," said state Sen. Gil Riviere.
“New pilots need airports like this to learn. They can’t fly and learn to fly at Honolulu International. We need this airport at all costs.”
NTSB records show that since 1987, a total of 14 people have died in plane crashes at Dillingham Airfield. That includes the skydiving plane accident eight months ago that claimed the lives of 11 people.
Schatz’s statement comes as the aviation industry in Mokulea is fighting for more time to operate out of the airfield.
Earlier this month, the Hawaii Transportation Department said it would be ending its lease with the airfield in the summer — which is three-and-a-half years early.
After June 30, it will be up to the U.S. Army to decide what will ultimately happen.
The DOT has previously listed numerous reasons for transferring the property back to the Army. Those reasons included lack of control, liability and loss of revenue.
But for the many companies that operate here -- those that provide glider rides, skydiving, and pilot training -- shutting down is not an option.
They said their businesses employ more than 100 people and generate more than $12 million in revenues.
“Just shutting down Dillingham Airfield is a poor way to treat people. We’ve had a business for 30 years, we’d like to continue in business," said Frank Hinshaw, owner of Skydive Hawaii.
Hinshaw said the companies will likely be forced to sue to stop the shutdown.
This story will be updated.