Joint News Release – U.S. Army/HDOT: Army and HDOT Set to Negotiate 50-Year Lease for Dillingham Airfield

Posted on Dec 20, 2023 in Airports News, Main, News

HONOLULU — The U.S. Army Garrison Hawai‘i and the State of Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT) announced important progress in the continuing negotiations for a new long-term lease at Kawaihāpai Airfield, formerly known as Dillingham Airfield, to ensure the North Shore airfield remains open for commercial activities. The current short-term lease between the Army and HDOT expires on July 5, 2024.

“Like so many other projects and initiatives we have here in Hawai‘i, this decision with the State of Hawai‘i DOT truly gives us the latitude to work closely with the community and airport officials on the way-ahead for Dillingham, and this is certainly a positive step,” said Col. Steve McGunegle, Commander U.S. Army Garrison Hawai‘i.

In July 2023, HDOT formally informed the Army that the state cannot continue the lease unless three critical issues are resolved: 1) Army to authorize a 50-year lease term, 2) Army to guarantee HDOT sufficient rights and powers to operate the airfield, and 3) resolve oversight and management of the existing water system. These issues that have been ongoing for the past 10 years have cost the state over $1 million per year and have prohibited HDOT from receiving federal grants for Kawaihāpai Airfield.

Approval to negotiate a 50-year lease was received last week after the local Army leadership sent a request to the Department of the Army Headquarters seeking approval at the local level to negotiate beyond the normal terms of a lease. Typically, local commanders are permitted to approve routine five-year leases, however, with HDOT seeking a longer term (50 years), the Army had to seek approval in Washington, D.C.

“Gaining approval on a 50-year lease term is a big advancement in our ongoing negotiation for a new lease,” said Hawai‘i Department of Transportation Director Ed Sniffen. “A long-term lease will allow HDOT to develop a master plan for Kawaihāpai Airfield, apply for and receive Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program grants for long-term improvements and maintenance, and offer tenants longer-term leases that provide sufficient time for private investment and enhancement to their business operations.”

With the approval to work out details of the proposed 50-year term, the Army and HDOT will continue to work on the details of the new lease including the oversight of the airfield’s water system. Recent water line leak repairs were performed and paid for by HDOT, with support by the Army to conserve our precious resource and ensure water service the businesses and structures at the airfield continues without interruption.

Kawaihāpai Airfield is leased from the U.S. Army to the HDOT for civilian recreational purposes. The civilian-owned-and-operated businesses at the airfield cater to visitors and local patrons for their aviation interests including glider flying, free-fall parachuting, sightseeing, and occasionally trips to neighboring islands.

“The tenants and community are overjoyed to hear of this great step forward for the airfield,” said Ben Devine, executive director, Save Dillingham Airfield. “We would like to commend the collaborative efforts of Director Ed Sniffen and Col. McGunegle with the support of Rep. Perruso, Sen. Awa and especially U.S. Representative Jill Tokuda. Everyone wants to see the airport succeed and it is amazing what we can accomplish with a united purpose. I know that with continued focus we can ensure the airfield remains a community asset not just for 50 more years, but centuries.”

The Army leases the property to the state in the interest of the community and recreational activities, however, the Army conducts occasional exercises and training scenarios where the use of the airfield is required for ground training and aviation purposes including helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and cargo planes. The Army also hosts an annual exercise called Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center or JPMRC, with the airfield, and the rest of Dillingham Military Reservation serving a key role for logistics, staging, and movement of troops and supplies.

Background on Kawaihāpai Airfield

What is now Dillingham Military Reservation and Kawaihāpai Airfield began in the early 1900s as a small coastal defense camp and communication station known as Camp Kawihāpai.  It was formally established as Kawihāpai Military Reservation in 1925 and by the mid-1930s, the Army had developed plans to construct an airfield.  Those plans were expedited after the attack on December 7, 1941 and by April of 1942, the main runway had been constructed and paved, and the installation was reassigned as Mokulēʻia Army Airfield.  Development of the airfield continued through 1946 with the lengthening of the runway, the addition of a cross-wind runway and a taxiway, the construction of protective revetments and development of a training camp to accommodate up to 5,000 soldiers. The airfield was used for aviation training during and after World War II, but it did not play a role in any specific events during the war. At the end of 1947, Mokulēʻia Army Airfield was transferred to the U.S Air Force and shortly after was renamed Dillingham Air Force Base in memory of Captain Henry Gaylord Dillingham, a B-29 pilot who was killed in action over Kawasaki, Japan on July 25, 1945. The Department of Defense constructed a Nike Air Defense Missile launch facility at Dillingham Air Force Base in 1960. The launch facility shifted military activity away from the main runway and enabled the State of Hawai‘i to lease the airfield from the Air Force in 1962 for general aviation use on a short-term basis.  The Nike facility was decommissioned in 1970, but the short-term lease continued.  In 1974, the Air Force transferred the base to the Army and it was again renamed as Dillingham Military Reservation.  The state acquired a longer-term lease from the Army in 1974 and signed a 25-year lease in 1983.  In 2001, the Hawai‘i State Legislature passed a law officially renaming the airfield at Dillingham Military Reservation as Kawihāpai Airfield to recognize the traditional name of the area.