Hawaii Moving Forward To Close Dillingham


Businesses and users based at Hawaii’s scenic and historic Dillingham Airfield are marshaling support to reverse the state’s decision to close it next year. The state had planned to close the field in June 2020 but pushed it back a year to June 2021, according to HawaiiNewsNow. The field is home to gliding and skydiving operations comprising nearly a dozen businesses.

It was originally named Mokulēʻia Airfield and was famously the runway from which P-40s took off to defend Pearl Harbor against the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. It was renamed Dillingham after a B-29 crewman who was killed in action over Japan. The U.S. Army still owns the field, but the state of Hawaii has leased it for the past 25 years. Now the state wants it to revert to Army control. The Army still uses the airfield for training exercises.

“There’s jobs here. It’s 130 people … There’s nearly a dozen businesses. Their life’s investment is on the verge of being eradicated,” state Sen. Gil Riviere told HawaiiNewsNow. Dillingham is located on the North Shore of Oahu about 28 miles northwest of Honolulu. Airport tenants and aviation officials say the business won’t be able to relocate on the island.

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  1. Gliding, skydiving, and open cockpit airplane rides in Paradise–130 jobs–thousands of participants having fun–and the State wants to close it.
    I have yet to hear why they want to close it. It doesn’t have noise complaints–bordered by hills and the ocean. It doesn’t have a bad safety record. The Army owns it–uses it–and participates in the upkeep.

    Leave it to government to screw up a good thing. What next–close the nearby surfing beaches?

  2. There are some dots missing here, which I can fill in from news stories
    – The state wants to terminate the lease because they say the operational costs exceed revenues by $1 million a year
    – There are three companies that would like to work with the Army to operate the airport under a long-term contract so that commercial operators can stay there. But, the Army says it only wants to work with a state or county agency.
    – State politicians – Gil Riviere and Sean Quinlan – are trying to develop alternative options
    – The lease does not end until 2024; the state is planning to terminate it early

    • One assumes the interested companies do not plan to lose money on the deals they are proposing. But yet the state manages to lose a million bucks each year? Something doesn’t quite add up, it seems to me. Surely if the Army tries to keep it operational, for military purposes only, it will cost the Army far more than “no deal”. The reps ought to find out who actually is making the decisions on this case for the military… sometimes talking to the right general makes “intractable” problems just melt away.

    • From AOPA:
      HDOT’s decision to terminate the lease was unexpected as the agency remains obligated under Airport Improvement Program grants until 2025, but the state is apparently willing to accept any fines from the FAA for early termination. In an April 22 letter, HDOT listed several factors in its decision including “the uncertainty of the short-term lease, risk of losing federal funds, water system issues, and lack of authority over the facility.”

  3. @ThomasB.
    Thanks for filling those details. I hoped to someday go to Dillingham for Glider Training. This closure will kill my chances. I live in the US Territory of Guam. Don’t need the extra expense to travel all the way to the US Mainland. I have friends in Honolulu that would put me up or put up with me. Been following this news for a long time.

    Spoke to a gentleman in Honolulu a couple of years back who is a GA pilot. His summation was that the purpose goes beyond Dillingham and finances. There is pressure to steadily cut away at General Aviation in general leaving only the airlines and the 1%.

  4. This is a great getaway spot for pilots and tourists and is not promoted adequately by the state. To get away from the rigors of jet flying I did my glider training there 30 years ago, gave my pilot son his first glider ride, watched whales calving just offshore, and met some great people. To close this place would be be a serious deprivation for the aviation community.

    • D’ya think?
      Some “lawmakers” think preventing flying by closing airports is the best way to prevent airplane accidents and to “keep people safe”…

      From Hawai’i Free Press:
      Hours after a crash that killed 2 men Saturday [22 Feb 2020], 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.”

  5. I soloed at Dillingham in November 1968. We would takeoff from PHNL and fly across the island to do our pattern work. I was 18 years old and discovered flying while living on Maui. After my first flight I found Pacific Flying Service in Honolulu and moved to Oahu to take lessons. I had know idea at the time it would lead to a career spanning 50 years. I owe a lot to Dillinghams long runway. My instructor would have me do three landings on every pass. They were filming Tora Tora Tora at the time, we would see them flying. I received my Private Pilots license in January 1969. By March of 1970 I had my Comm, Inst, CFII and Multi Engine. My career included freight, charter, corporate and airline. Thank You Dillingham, I hope it will survive for the generations of aviation enthusiasts to continue to reap it’s benefits.