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Hawaii's Aviation History



Honolulu International Airport is one of the oldest airports in the United States.  It was dedicated as John Rodgers Airport on March 21, 1927.  


To learn more about early aviation in Hawaii please visit our Hawaii Aviation Hsitory website. There you will find thousands of photos, interesting stories about Hawaii aviation pioneers, newspaper clippings and much more.



Act 176, Session Laws of Hawaii 1925, appropriated $45,000 for the acquisition and improvement of an airport and/or landing field on the Island of Oahu. . . within a reasonable distance of Honolulu. The amount was not to be expended until the sum of $20,000 had been raised by private subscription and paid into the Territorial Treasury.  The Chamber of Commerce took on the task of raising the money from local businessmen.


From these funds an area of 119.3 acres of land and 766 acres under water was acquired from the S. M. Damon estate as an airport site for the sum of $27,410. 


On August 31, 1925 at 2:55 p.m., Commander John Rodgers and his crew left San Pablo Bay, San Francisco in Navy PN-9 No. 1 to attempt the first flight across the Pacific Ocean from the Mainland U.S. to Hawaii.  The plane was forced to land in the ocean at 4:15 p.m. September 1 after running out of fuel about 365 miles from Oahu. 


After three days of waiting to be picked up, the heroic crew crafted sails from the wings of the plane and sailed toward Hawaii.  Their food supply was exhausted after the third day and their water ran out on the sixth day at sea.  On the tenth day, they spotted Kauai.  Ten miles off shore they encountered a submarine which towed them safely into Ahukini Harbor and a heroes welcome.  The 1,841.12 statute miles flown from August 31 to their forced landing was accepted by the F.A. I. as a new world airline distance record for Class C seaplanes that remained unbeaten for almost five years.        


John Rodgers Airport was dedicated March 21, 1927.  The principal speaker at the dedication was the Honorable E. P. Warner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  The field was named in honor of the late Commander John Rodgers, who had been Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor from 1923 to 1925, when he left to command the Navy’s historical flight between the West Coast and Hawaii.


Act 257, Session Laws of Hawaii 1927, approved May 2, 1927, by Governor Wallace R. Farrington appropriated $75,000 for airport development at John Rodgers Airport. The labor of clearing and grading the 119.3 acres of the airport was progressing slowly but surely under appropriations of the 1925 and 1927 Territorial Legislature. 


John Rodgers Airport comprising 885 acres and located at Keehi Lagoon was placed under the jurisdiction of the Territorial Aeronautical Commission by Executive Order 293, dated August 2, 1927.  


On February 5, 1928, the Territorial Aeronautical Commission adopted a regulation requiring all privately operated landing fields to be licensed.


In July 1928, Major C. C. Moseley conducted a survey of air fields for Western Air Express and reported unfavorably on Hawaii’s airports because they were too short.


Of the several proposed interisland air services, the field narrowed down to two contenders: Hawaiian Airways and Inter-Island Airways.  A Mainland company, Hawaiian Airways Co. Ltd. of Nevada, erected a hangar at John Rodgers Airport and made survey flights with a small tri-motor Kreutzer mono plane. 

Interisland Airways, a division of the Interisland Steam Navigation Co., began organizing to offer commercial flights.  


A portion of John Rodgers Airport was under construction in 1929 by the Superintendent of Public Works.  A runway 250-300 feet wide and 2,050 feet long was completed as well as considerable clearing on the balance of the area.  Some 766 acres of the airport was under tide water.  The balance of 119 acres was available for clearing and grading.  There was much delay in getting the airport prepared for use. The delay was blamed on problems of divided responsibility and a lack of sufficient funds. 


The Territorial Aeronautics Commission noted the following improvements were needed immediately: clearing, grading, filling, roadways, runways, landing strips, aprons, water service, hangars, administration building, telephone, electric light and power service, and fencing.


Fiscal Year 1929 witnessed the inauguration of commercial aviation in Hawaii on a larger scale than any previous such period.  Several new concerns were organized and incorporated to conduct flying activities within the Territory.


Among these were Hawaiian Aeronautical Industries at John Rodgers Airport, with W. D. Cannon, Chief Pilot. Hawaiian Aeronautical Industries, Ltd., incorporated November 5, 1928 with authorized capital stock of $1,050,500.  They intended to conduct regularly scheduled interisland passenger and express transactions.  They were awaiting two Fokker F-10 Super-Trimotor planes which would carry 12 passengers, baggage and freight. They offered pilot and mechanic instruction, and general flying activities such as sightseeing and aerial photography.  They had three land biplanes--an American Eagle, a Swallow and a JN-4.  Eventually they did get started, flying a Kreutzer plane.


Inter-Island Airways incorporated on January 30, 1929, with an authorized capital stock of $2 million.  On October 29, 1929, two Inter-Island Airways S-38 amphibians made pre-inaugural flights from Honolulu to Hilo, piloted by Lt. Cover and Captain Charles I. Elliott. 


On November 8, 1929, 51 Army and Navy airplanes flew in formation over Honolulu in celebration of Aviation Day, and the inauguration of the new Inter-Island Airways air service which was to commence on November 11, 1929.  Fares for the various routes at the beginning of operations were:

            Honolulu to Molokai                   $17.50

            Honolulu to Maui                       $20.00

            Honolulu to Hilo                        $ 32.00

            Honolulu to Kauai                      $ 20.00


Each passenger was allowed 20 pounds of baggage, 25-cents per pound for baggage in excess of 20 pounds.


During the first year of operations Inter-Island flew a total of 275,574 miles and carried 10, 355 passengers; and 18,680 pounds of express was carried the first year.


To learn more about HNL's history click on one of the links below 


HNL 1930-1939 

HNL 1940-1949

HNL 1950-1959

HNL 1960-1969

HNL 1970-1979

HNL 1980-1989

HNL 1990-1999

HNL 2000-Present




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