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Maalaea Airport

Maalaea Airport operated on Maui from 1930 to 1939 when Puunene Airport opened.

The Maalaea Airport story began in 1927 when the Territorial Legislature appropriated $15,000 for acquisition of land for an airport site on Maui.  The Territorial Aeronautical Commission selected two sites for landing fields and recommended the securing of these tracts of land.  It was proposed to establish the main airport for Maui in the Paukukalo Basin situated about one mile north of the town of Wailuku.  This tract comprised 106.2 acres and was known as the National Guard Rifle Range and Camp Site.  The other site for a landing field approximately three miles west of the town of Lahaina and comprising 54.4 acres and was known as Hahakea, Lahaina.  This tract belonged to Pioneer Mill Company and its acquisition was requested by an exchange or purchase of the land. The site chosen was at Maalaea.            

Inter-Island Airways inaugurated interisland air service from Honolulu to Maui on November 11, 1929 in eight passenger Sikorsky S-38 amphibians.  The fare was $20.  They used a field near Maalaea Bay on the south coast of Maui.  The airfield had no paved surfaces, was unusable in wet weather, and was close to the West Maui mountains. 

The TAC reported on December 16, 1929 that an appraisal of Maalaea Field was underway and no further steps to acquire Maalaea as a territorial airport would be taken until after the appraisal. 

Inter-Island Airways announced it was letting a contract for a runway at Maalaea in December 1929; the runway to be 1,500 feet long, 100-feet wide of six-inch asphalt macadam.  The Commission felt it ought to get every field possible, especially owning Maalaea field outright; but worried that if Inter-Island Airways built a runway on this field, the additional cost for development might make it so that the Commission could not buy it.  The TAC felt that the drainage was more of a problem than the proposed runway. Inter-Island was asked to hold off on the runway until the Commission could acquire the field.           

The TAC received the appraisal for Maalaea Field on January 13, 1930.  The valuation, exclusive of improvements made by Inter-Island Airways, was: 25 acres of cane land at $200, $5,000; 55 acres kiawe land at $100, $5,500; and 45 acres swamp land at $5, $225; for a total of 125 acres at a cost of $10,725. The owners of the land, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, refused to accept the appraised value.  To acquire the land by condemnation required a survey.           

On April 21, 1930 the TAC voted to buy Maalaea Field for $18,000 which was to be paid to Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company for the land and $20,860.29 to Inter-Island Airways for improvements. That same month Inter-Island Airways completed a 1,500 foot asphalt macadam runway at Maalaea.   

On May 28, 1930, Governor’s Executive Order No. 412 set aside 111.9 acres for Maalaea Airport in Waikapu, Wailuku, Maui.  The airport was placed under the control and management of the Territorial Aeronautics Commission.           

In July 1930 the U.S. Weather Bureau established a weather reporting station at Maalaea.  This step constituted the first expenditure of federal money in Hawaii in the interest of commercial aviation. Inter-Island Airways and the Kahului Railroad Company constructed a fence around the rest house at Maalaea Airport. A drainage ditch was completed in October 1930 at a cost of $326.           

Inter-Island Airways reported in January 1932 that the drainage ditch was dangerous.  The Commission ordered that it be filled with rock and covered with the same gravel that was used in the construction of the airport.  Cost: $746. 

On October 8, 1934 Inter-Island Airways was awarded a contract to deliver airmail from Honolulu to Maui.           

By 1935 Maalaea Airport was a level soil-covered area adjoining the sea. Paved runways were essential as the field was not usable in wet weather.  The runways were narrow and needed widening. The area nearest the sea needed filling and improving.  Maintenance and improvements had been carried out the past year by the FERA. Inter-Island Airways, Ltd. maintained an office at the field. 

In 1935 Inter-Island Airways began adding 16-passenger Sikorsky S-43s to its fleet and although they operated from Maalaea, it was soon realized that the field was too small and too close to the mountains to meet desired safety criteria. In September 1936 the WPA conducted wind studies on a new nearby site which was to become known as Puunene Airport.           

In a report to the Governor on January 7, 1937, Robert L. Campbell, District Advisor, Airport Section, Bureau of Air Commerce, wrote:           

“The use of Maalaea Airport on Maui should be discontinued because the physical characteristics of the land and its location make expansion of the usable area impractical.  The hazard attendant to the operation of modern transport equipment within restricted areas prohibits the use of Federal funds for the permanent improvement of airports that cannot be enlarged sufficiently to meet minimum Bureau of Air Commerce requirements as to size and usable area.  Any moneys being expended for maintenance on these fields should only be continued so long as it is necessary for uninterrupted service, and when other facilities are available should be used on airports being developed that will meet these minimum requirements.” 

While the Territory maintained this field and Inter-Island Airways, Ltd. maintained an office, the Territorial Engineer proposed exchanging this field with the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company for a new location at Pulehu, about three miles to the Northeast where a suitable site of 300 acres was available. 

He proposed building three runways: 4,000, 4,000 and 3,200 feet in length, to be paved 300 feet wide with 100 feet of grading on each side of the runways.  Construction was awaiting the transfer of the land.           

The WPA established a wind gauge. 

In January 1938 the Chief Inspector, Bureau of Air Commerce, Washington, D.C. condemned Maalaea.  For an interim period commercial airlines were granted a temporary permit for continued operation of only the smaller types of aircraft. This left Maui without adequate air services. 

When Maui Airport at Puunene was opened on June 30, 1939, Maalaea was closed permanently. 

Governor’s Executive Order No. 821 dated October 4, 1938 withdrew EO No. 412 as Maalaea Airport had been abandoned as unsafe for aeronautical purposes.

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