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Dillingham Airfield Saved by 50-Year Lease
By News Release @ 2:03 PM :: 553 Views :: Honolulu County, Small Business, Tourism

GOVERNOR GREEN, HDOT AND U.S. ARMY SIGN 50-YEAR LEASE FOR KAWAIHĀPAI AIRFIELD

News Release from Office of the Governor, July 5, 2024

HONOLULU — Governor Josh Green, M.D., the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT) and U.S. Army Garrison Hawai‘i (USAG-HI) have signed a new 50-year lease at Kawaihāpai Airfield (HDH), formerly known as Dillingham Airfield. The new lease will go into effect July 6, 2024, at which time airfield operations will continue normal operations, including uninterrupted water service to the tenants; water service to nearby off-airport users will continue as described below.

“Kawaihāpai Airfield plays a significant role in aircraft training for civilians and the military and a significant role in a healthy, diversified economy,” said Governor Green. “I’m proud that as a state we are able to come together with the varied stakeholders at Dillingham to continue to operate as a civil aviation resource and reach a mutual solution for water delivery.”

“This new 50-year lease will ensure Kawaihāpai Airfield remains open for commercial activities and will continue to serve as a critical economic resource for O‘ahu’s North Shore community,” said Hawai‘i Department of Transportation Director Ed Sniffen. “This was a collaborative effort that brought together the state, the Army Garrison Hawai‘i, Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District, local businesses, elected officials and community members, all focused on a common goal of ensuring the continued operation of Kawaihāpai Airfield. We appreciate the tremendous efforts of the Army Garrison and Corps of Engineers in working with us and our community stakeholders to reach this important milestone.”

“This joint effort between the Army Garrison Hawai‘i, Corps of Engineers Honolulu District and the state of Hawai‘i Department of Transportation represents the commitment we all have to the local community, local vendors and the diverse set of users of Kawaihāpai Airfield,” said Col. Steve McGunegle, commander U.S. Army Garrison Hawai‘i. “We want to also highlight that Aqua Engineers has come on board to run the Dillingham Public Water System (PWS) as a third party and this is critical for the airfield and local community.”

For the past 10 years, HDOT and the Army have been working to address lease-related issues that have limited HDOT from receiving federal grants for Kawaihāpai Airfield. Specifically, in July 2023, HDOT formally informed the Army that the state could not continue to operate HDH unless three critical issues were resolved. Working together, HDOT, the Army Garrison Hawai‘i and the Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District reached agreements on each of these conditions.

First, HDOT required a long-term lease and Joint Use Agreement so that HDOT could remain eligible for federal grants to support infrastructure improvements and continue deferred maintenance work in support of ongoing civilian operations. Second, HDOT required a new lease that would provide sufficient rights and powers to satisfy the department’s obligations under federal law and pursuant to federal grants. 

The third condition required that HDOT would continue to have access to necessary water to operate and maintain the airfield, but would no longer be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Dillingham PWS. The Dillingham PWS serves HDH tenants and about 30 water users, including select residents, and Camp Erdman. Historically, HDOT has retained oversight of the airfield’s water system; however, continuing to do so would not comply with federal funding requirements.

In support of the new lease, the Army has established a separate five-year license with community-based Aqua Engineers to be the operator of the Dillingham PWS beginning July 6, 2024. This new arrangement will ensure service continues to current water users, both at the airfield and in the nearby community. Within the five-year term of the license, the Army will work with Aqua Engineers to secure a long-term agreement for the continued operation of the Dillingham PWS. 

Kawaihāpai Airfield is part of Dillingham Military Reservation, an active U.S. Army installation, and is leased from the U.S. Army to the HDOT for the operation of a joint military/civil airfield. The priorities for use of Kawaihāpai Airfield are (a) military flight operations, (b) military ground maneuvers and (c) civil aviation and sport parachute operations.

“This is tremendous work and partnering with Hawai‘i Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Garrison. This 50-year lease provides significant benefits to the community and enhances readiness in the Pacific,” said Lt. Col. Christopher “Ryan” Pevey, Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District. “I am excited the larger community will be able to continue to have access to this general aviation airport.”

The Army routinely conducts exercises and training where the use of the airfield is required for ground training and aviation purposes including helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Systems and cargo planes. The Army also hosts the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center, a large-scale training exercise, at the airfield, serving a vital role in ensuring regional combat preparedness. 

The civilian-owned-and-operated businesses at the airfield cater to visitors and local patrons for their recreational aviation interests including glider flying, free-fall parachuting, sightseeing and occasionally, trips to neighboring islands.

Photos of the event, courtesy Office of the Governor, will be uploaded here.

Video of the news conference can be viewed here.

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