Honolulu’s Long-Awaited Airport Modernization

Despite a slow-moving state legislature, shifting priorities with each new administration, and general red tape,  Hawaii’s Honolulu airport has been able to kick start several projects:there’s an ambitious $1.3 billion modernization project underway with plans for another $1.1 billion concourse in the works.

Honolulu Airport Upgrade

Mauka Concourse
  • $220 million
  • to be completed in late 2020
Consolidated Rental Car (CONRAC) Facility
  • $330 million
  • to be completed in mid-2021
Diamond Head Concourse Re-Build
  • $1.1 billion
  • with early estimates of completion in 2028

For the occasional traveler, Honolulu’s Daniel K Inouye International Airport may seem like an ideal open-air throwback to the early days of the jet age. Beyond initial impressions, however, regular users are frustrated with an airport that has an inefficient design and a lack of space during peak mid-day hours.  Work is being done to improve the airport, but it’s occurring at a glacial pace.

Talk of expanding and modernizing Honolulu’s airport goes back to the time when the current terminal first opened in 1962. While there have been several completed expansions in the last 50 years, the last major project, the current Terminal 1 (formerly the Interisland Terminal) was opened 25 years ago. Many projects have been planned, but the slow-moving state legislature, shifting priorities with each new administration, and general red tape all combine to bog down efforts, if not scrap them entirely.

That’s not to say that nothing is happening today. There is a long-awaited $1.3 billion modernization project underway with plans for another $1.1 billion concourse in the works. For travelers, there are three big components that should, if completed, bring some relief.

honolulu airport breaking ground
Kahu Kordell Kekoa (from left to right), HDOT Airport Division Deputy Director Ross Higashi, Rep. Richard Onishi, Airlines Committee of Hawaii Co-Chair Blaine Miyasato, House Vice Speaker Mark Nakashima, Governor David Ige, HDOT Director Jade Butay, Senate President Ronald Kouchi, Sen. Lorraine Inouye, Hawaiian Airlines President & CEO Peter Ingram, Hensel Phelps Vice President Thomas Diersbock participate in the turning of the soil with O’o sticks.
Mauka Concourse

The $220 million, 260,000 square foot Mauka Concourse project finally broke ground on May 30 of this year. When finished by the end of 2020, it will provide an additional 6 widebody or 11 narrowbody aircraft gates. Though the airport’s gates are all common-use, Hawaiian Airlines is expected to receive preferential use of these gates since they are the closest to the airline’s existing operation.

The concourse will be built on top of the old commuter terminal which is currently being razed. Mokulele, the former occupant of that terminal, has relocated to a new facility in the recently-christened Terminal 3 on the other side of the complex.

Over the last several years, Hawaiian Airlines has grown its operation dramatically, primarily on international and mainland routes.  Because of this, the airline’s passengers more often find themselves walking great lengths to the end of the Ewa, Central, and even the distant Diamond Head concourses, far from the airline’s check-in facilities. The new Mauka (which means “toward the mountain” in Hawaiian) Concourse will allow Hawaiian Airlines to consolidate its operation in a smaller area while freeing up space for other airlines to use gates in the rest of the airport.

The design team was led by KYA Design Group with engineering work done by MEH. Hensel Phelps is the general contractor.

The new Consolidated Rental Car Facility (CONRAC)
Consolidated Rental Car Facility (CONRAC)

Construction on the new 5-story, $330 million consolidated rental car facility (CONRAC) is pushing ahead. Hawai’i Department of Transportation spokesperson Tim Sakahara explained that though it will be finished by the end of 2020, tenant improvements will push back the opening until mid-2021.

The growth in air traffic in Honolulu has led to crowded roads and jam-packed parking garages.  The new CONRAC should help resolve both of those issues.

The project will move on-airport rental car companies out of a temporary facility, freeing up nearly 900 more parking spots for travelers to use for parking.  The new facility’s 2,250 spaces will allow the airport to relocate those companies as well as those that are currently off-airport into one facility. This will remove some shuttle bus traffic from those vendors not currently on-airport.

This project was designed by Demattei Wong ArchitectureWatts Constructors is the general contractor.

Honolulu Airport’s Modernization Map. Note: The Diamond Head Commuter Terminal was scrapped in favor of a new rebuild plan.
Diamond Head Concourse Re-Build

The governor of Hawai’I released plans in February of this year to re-build and expand the Diamond Head Concourse in a $1.1 billion project. If completed, this will take about 10 years, but it’s far too early in the process for any estimate to be reliable.

The Honolulu Airport’s Diamond Head Concourse was opened in 1970 specifically to be able to handle the then-new Boeing 747. It, along with the Ewa Concourse on the opposite side, were created to look like “gull wings” spreading out from the terminal building. This may have been a welcome architectural flourish, but it was also inefficient. With gates only on one side of each concourse, travelers had to walk further to get to their aircraft than in more efficient terminal designs.

This new concourse will be more compact than the existing concourse while adding 12 to 14 widebody gates. It will have the ability to extend further when needed.

While it is a welcome site to see projects lurching forward toward completion, the unique nature of having a state-run airport system has dramatically slowed progress over the years.  The Airlines Committee of Hawai’I as well as the governor’s office have supported the development of an airports corporation, but that proposal has yet to win enough support in the legislature to pass.

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