Runway overhaul moving forward, DOT says

Nearly a year after public discussion about the urgent need for a major overhaul of Kahului Airport’s 71-year-old, 7,000-foot main runway, state Department of Transportation officials remain undecided about which repair option to choose and how long Maui’s air overseas lifeline would need to be closed, if at all.

“An option has not yet been chosen,” said DOT spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter in an email Tuesday. “But the project is moving forward.”

She reported that the department is working on starting an environmental impact statement for the project.

“The EIS process typically takes 18 to 24 months,” she said. “During the EIS process, the public will have a chance to comment on the proposed project(s). The EIS will help to guide the project(s).

“Once the EIS is completed, the design phase will be entered and is expected to be finished in mid-2016. After that, the project would be put out to bid,” Sluyter said.

In January 2012, state officials reported that they had developed three options for runway repairs.

Those were drafted after a 2009 notice from the Federal Aviation Administration that federal funds would no longer be available for ongoing piecemeal patching of the runway. Former Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration hired an engineering firm to study the issue and make an assessment.

A report of the firm’s findings was delivered to state transportation officials in the summer of 2011.

In mid-January 2012, the state Airports Division held a public informational meeting on three options. Those were:

* A $34 million to $47 million option that would require closing the main runway for the longest period of time – eight to 10 weeks and would not allow wide-body landings at the airport.

* A $66 million to $84 million option that would not permit wide-body aircraft landings for three weeks. It would require a 2,000-foot extension (mostly toward Wailuku-Kahului) of the airport’s secondary, 5,000-foot runway 5-23, which is used by small planes.

* A $110 million to $134 million option that would allow the airport to continue landings of wide-body aircraft without restrictions. It would require a 2,000-foot extension to runway 5-23 and a 1,600-foot extension toward Hana Highway for the primary runway 2-20.

In the second and third options, extending runway 5-23 would make it capable of handling Mainland flights and enable the closure of runway 2-20 for repairs.

State officials have said that closing Kahului Airport to Mainland flights for as much as three months is not an option.

Kahului Airport’s main runway was built in 1942 and has had asphalt overlays five times – in 1969, 1972, 1981, 1995 and 2000. A partial 3-inch-thick overlay was done in 2006.

Other patchwork runway repairs have been ongoing, with future repairs expected to increase 10 to 15 percent per year, officials said in a presentation on the runway repair project.

They said that runway 2-20 has been “demonstrating increased asphalt pavement deterioration in the form of cracks, shoving, separation and other pavement stresses . . . A slow but steady rise in pavement stresses has resulted in an increase in the presence of foreign object debris.”

Such debris “has the ability to severely damage aircraft when accidentally sucked into jet aircraft engines,” a report said.

Officials emphasized that while the runway had been deteriorating, it was safe. Patchwork repairs, however, were costing the state $1 million per year.

The prevention of runway debris from airfield pavement deterioration is considered one of the FAA’s top safety concerns. While the FAA has notified the state that runway maintenance is not eligible for federal airport improvement program funding, a more permanent solution would be eligible for such funding.

A preferred funding plan for the state would be 75 percent from the FAA Airports Improvement fund and 25 percent from state Airports Division funds. Both funds are supported by airport user fees, not the state’s general fund or federal income taxes.

During a Jan. 23, 2012, public meeting on the three runway repair options, the most expensive option – which would not close the airport to arrivals of overseas flights – was overwhelmingly favored. Numerous speakers, including Mayor Alan Arakawa, described even a temporary shutdown of Mainland flights to Maui as having a “devastating” economic impact.

Although the third option calls for extending the airport’s main runway to 8,600 feet, that is short of the 9,600 feet needed for international flights, said officials, who reported that they were not planning to reopen a divisive debate over allowing direct international flights to Maui.

That issue was hotly contested in the 1990s, with the state ultimately abandoning the idea.

* Brian Perry can be reached at