Dillingham Airfield tenants: State reprieve could pave way for major upgrades

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 5:08 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 5:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dillingham Airfield tenants said the state’s decision not to terminate the airport’s lease early will save up to 130 jobs and could pave the way for major upgrades.

“A huge weight has been lifted off the tenants,” said Ben Devine, director of Save Dillingham Airfield.

“This gives people an opportunity to raise their gaze from an obstacle immediately in front of the horizon and really plan for their future now.”

After operating the airfield since 1961 on land it leases from the Army, the state announced in February 2020 that it was terminating its lease early because of cost and safety concerns.

Officials said the state was losing about $1 million a year. And since 1988, NTSB records show 15 people have died in aircraft and skydiving incidents there.

But the state reversed course this week, saying it won’t seek an early termination of its lease, which runs to July 2024. The about-face came after months of meetings with tenants, local lawmakers, congressional leaders and North Shore residents and community leaders.

Many of those stakeholders argued that the airport is too important to the North Shore economy to close. Before the pandemic, it employed about 130 workers and generated about $12 million a year in revenues.

Area lawmakers said those airport jobs would have been lost had the state gone ahead with the shutdown.

“This really is a gem of the North Shore,”said state Rep. Lauren Matsumoto (Mililani, Mokuleia).

“With COVID, with so many things shutting down, this is an opportunity for so much economic activity.”

The decision to let operations continue at least until July 2024 will give tenants and other stakeholders time to negotiate a long-term lease with the state and Army. That would give them the ability to invest in major upgrades.

“I think it’s great news. I’m happy we’ll be able to stay in business. A lot of us don’t have anywhere to go,” said Scott Blackley, owner of North Shore Aviation Services.

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