HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is receiving millions of dollars from the U.S. Transportation Department to bring runways at the island of Lanai's only airport into compliance with safety requirements.
The runways there do not meet current Federal Aviation Administration safety standards.
"It's really important because if we don't make these improvements, the FAA could fine us or potentially shut down the airport. So it's that serious," said Caroline Sluyter, spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department.
Right now, there's about a 40- to 60-foot drop just 100 feet from the southern end of one of Lanai's runways. That needs to change, because the FAA now mandates a 1,000-foot flat area on either end of runways as a safety zone.
"If there's any kind of emergency and the plane may overshoot the runway, that the area is flat and free from any holes or ditches or there's nothing to impede the airplane's progress," Sluyter said.
So the state is receiving $15.3 million from the U.S. Transportation Department to make those improvements.
Construction is expected to start next spring and take six to eight months. So the project should be finished well before the FAA's compliance deadline at the end of 2015.
The project will not extend the length of the runways or create a new, longer runway for bigger jets, plans that have been discussed as part of billionaire Larry Ellison's vision for growth on Lanai.
"This is a project that's been in the works for several years. It's something that's mandated by the FAA and so it's been the planning stages and so now that the funds are being released, we can move forward for the actual construction," Sluyter said.
The total cost of the runway safety zone project is estimated to be $21 million, with the federal government picking up 95 percent of that cost and the state covering the rest, according to an environmental assessment filed by the state DOT.
The EA found no significant adverse impact on the environment by the project.
"These funds for the Lanai Airport are an important investment in the local economy," said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who announced the federal funding Tuesday. "The grant will help the Lanai Airport remain in compliance with federal regulations and ensure the safety of the tens of thousands of business travelers, tourists, and families traveling to and from the islands each year."
In a separate project, the Federal Transit Administration will give the state $7.4 million to improve the inter-island ferry system.
The money will fund rehabilitation of ferry terminals and piers at Manele Small Boat Harbor on Lanai as well as Kaunakakai on Molokai and Maui's Maalaea Small Boat Harbor.
Those projects will increase the efficiency, safety and hospitability of the existing inter-island ferry system, Schatz said.
"Maintaining an array of options for inter-island travel is critical to our state's economy," Schatz added. "These funds will ensure safe and reliable transportation for our islands' residents and visitors, encouraging business travel and statewide tourism."