Kalaupapa Airport was opened to operations in 1934 and was served by Inter-Island Airways, now Hawaiian Airlines, with Sikorsky S-38, eight-passenger amphibious aircraft. Service was discontinued by Hawaiian because the field was too small and too rough for use by Sikorsky S-43s and Douglas DC-3s.
During World War II, Gambo Flying Service was authorized by the military to furnish emergency transportation of medical supplies, etc. directly to Kalaupapa. After the war, Andrew Flying Service and Cockett Airlines began serving Kalaupapa on a daily basis with Beechcraft and Cessna planes.
Although Kalaupapa peninsula is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health, it was agreed that the Hawaii Aeronautics Commission would accept responsibility of airport maintenance and operations. The problems were extensive but were eventually resolved.
In 1951, a small passenger terminal with rest house was completed. Up to that time there were no passenger facilities available.
The field was sod on sand and as a result was very rough, causing discomfort to passengers and excess wear to aircraft using the area. It was hoped that this situation could be alleviated by maintaining a good stand of grass. Accordingly, water storage tanks and a pipe line with hose bibs were installed. Although this proved helpful, it was not sufficient to counteract poor nourishment in the sandy soil and erosion from high winds and propeller blast.
Accordingly in 1951, a small paved warm-up apron was constructed. This eliminated the trouble at the warm-up or down-wind end of the landing strip but was of no help on the rest of the area. In 1954, a paved runway with sodded shoulders was completed.
Although the number of people at Kalaupapa is small and ordinarily would not justify such an airport, air service is the only means of transportation between the peninsula and the outside world.
Barge service is irregular, there being only about three barges a year and all daily needs such as mail, bread, vegetables, newspapers, etc. are supplied by air.
By 1955, the airport consisted of 17 acres, and had one paved runway, 5-23, which was 50-feet wide and 1,658-feet long. The airport was served by Andrew Flying Service and Cockett Airlines. Facilities included a passenger terminal building, paved runway, wind socks and field maintenance.
A $9.2 million project to upgrade Kalaupapa Airport was completed in September 1992.
Since the National Park Service took over Kalaupapa, permits are required to fly into the airport.