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Airport History


Construction of Lihue Airport 1949



Land was acquired near Ahukini in 1948 for the purpose of constructing Lihue Airport.  A contract for grading and paving a 3,750-foot runway was let in 1948 for $359,627.  To complete this project, additional paving of taxiways and parking areas brought the total of $678,854.


On September 1, 1949, the airport was opened to limited operations while the terminal building was under construction.  This building was built at a cost of $97,223 and was dedicated on January 8, 1950.  Water had to be brought to the airport from Lihue and a contract for a water main was let in October 1949.  The water system for the airport represented an expenditure of $55,564.


Upon completion of a rotating beacon and obstruction lights on Kalepa and Carter's Point, night schedules were started on April 4, 1950.


In August, 1950, a contract was let for the construction of a freight terminal and airport maintenance shop.  Temporary runway lights were replaced by medium intensity runway lights and a fully automatic emergency generating system in September, 1951.  Prior to introduction of Convair 340 airplanes by Hawaiian Airlines, it was necessary to lengthen the runway and taxiways from 3,750 feet to 5,100 feet.  The runway extension was completed in October 1952 at a cost of $178,697.


Immediately on the opening of Lihue Airport in January, 1950, passenger traffic started a rate of increase beyond all expectations and the continued rise in 1951 taxed the facilities of the terminal building. Plans for enlargement of the building to provide for traffic, CAA and Weather Bureau needs were drawn and a contract was let in July 1952.  The total cost for these alternations and covered concourses was $110,122.


The location of baggage claiming facilities was designed for maximum convenience to the airlines in expediting their turn-around time, but proved unsatisfactory to the public by requiring them to carry their luggage through a crowded lobby to the street.  Plans were drawn by the Public Works Department to construct separate baggage claiming enclosures on the street side of the terminal for each airline.  These facilities were connected by a canopy over the entire loading zone in front of the building, offering protection in bad weather to both incoming and outgoing passengers.


Non-scheduled operators to Port Allen suspended operations due to economic pressures.


In 1955, the land area at Lihue Airport encompassed 160 acres, including one paved runway, 3-21, which was 100-feet wide and 5,100-feet long.


The airport was served by Hawaiian Airlines, Ltd. and Trans-Pacific Airlines, Ltd. on a scheduled basis, as well as a number of non-scheduled operators.


The airport included a terminal building, restaurant, ground transportation, parking lot, paved runway and warm-up apron, medium intensity lights, lighted wind cones, rotating beacon and obstruction lights, parking apron, T-Hangars, freight terminal, CAA Communications Station (24-hour), U.S. Weather Bureau (24 hours), 80 octane fuel and Crash & Fire protection.


In October 1958, a parking lot was added to the existing terminal area and a restaurant building connected to the terminal was completed in March 1959.


Additions were made to the terminal in 1962 and hangars were erected.


Fierce winds up to 84 miles an hour hit Kauai on January 13,1970 tearing the roof off Lihue Airport’s parking garage and scattering debris, and damaging the fire station.


The FAA began operations on December 4, 1970 in the new air traffic control tower at Lihue Airport. The tower was officially dedicated on December 22, 1970.


The increasing number of hotels on Kauai made it an attractive tourist destination and the   there was a 25 percent increase in operations in 1973.


By 1974, it was evident that the passenger flow at Lihue had exceeded the physical capabilities of the terminal and there were increasing reports of clogged sewers and inoperative utilities.  The airlines decision to buy larger aircraft made construction of a second runway necessary and a new terminal was also planned.


Fencing was installed at Lihue Airport in 1974 to meet new FAA security requirements.


A new fire station was dedicated at Lihue Airport on September 22, 1978.


Hurricane Iwa hit Oahu and Kauai with winds of up to 85 mph on November 11, 1982.  Electrical power was out for several days on both islands.  As soon as the winds died down, airport staff worked through the night to clear the runways at Lihue Airport so that emergency aircraft could land to assist in the recovery effort.  For the weeks following the hurricane, planes landed continuously to bring supplies and help to aid the battered island.  Regular passenger service to Lihue began about a month later.  Tourism to the island came to a standstill as hotels that were undamaged by the storm were used by utility and construction workers, as well as island residents whose homes had been destroyed.


The new $13.3 million 6,500-foot runway 17-35 was dedicated at Lihue Airport on April 26, 1984. The new runway was designed for aircraft approaches over water, thereby reducing noise levels in urban areas and providing safer flight operations with the installation of an instrument landing system by the FAA. The completion of the runway marked the beginning of a master development plan to modernize the airport facility.


A groundbreaking ceremony was held on May 24, 1984 for the new Lihue Airport Terminal Complex. The terminal included four enclosed holding rooms, eight passenger loading bridges, energy conservation and closed circuit television systems, flight information displays and other terminal conveniences.


The new passenger terminal was dedicated on February 25, 1987 and became operational the next day, serving the three interisland carriers, and United Airlines. It cost $36 million and contained four large holding rooms to accommodate waiting passengers. Each holding room has two gates with loading bridges to connect the terminal to the aircraft. The central lobby features a gift shop, flower shop, newsstand, restaurant and snack bar. The new terminal has 500 public and 200 employee parking stalls. A separate U-drive building is centered across from the main terminal. Bus parking stalls are provided for tour groups at each end of the terminal next to the baggage claim facilities.


An expanded roadway system, parking lot and utility systems, and new maintenance baseyard were completed in 1987.


On September 16, 1987 the 15-year contract for food and beverage service began with Marriott/Host.


In 1988, the new Master Plan for Lihue Airport included aircraft noise impact studies and the development plan for the old terminal area.


Several public hearings were held in 1988 to discuss plans for the development of helicopter facilities which would correct the problem of congestion at the existing helipad which needed to be moved to allow for the construction of taxiways.


The Richard A. Kawakami Terminal, named in honor of the late Speaker of the House of Representatives, was dedicated at Lihue Airport on December 2, 1988. A bronze bust of Kawakami was unveiled and a tile mural by Kauai artist David Kuraoka, which is located in the lobby of the terminal, was also dedicated during the ceremony.


Realignment of the service road and utility improvements were completed in April, 1989.


Construction of interim helicopter facilities to serve helicopter operations until a permanent inland heliport is built started in August 1989. The facilities include three take-off and landing pads, 20 parking pads, taxiway, fueling facilities and vehicular parking. Helicopter operations will be relocated to the interim facilities to ease congestion and provide room for a new taxiway at Lihue Airport.


Work to extend Runway 3-21 to 6,500 feet and widen it to 150 feet started in May 1990.


Construction began in February 1990 on a new 30,000 cargo building and 4,000 square foot Commuter Terminal, including aprons and taxiways for the two facilities.


Dedication of the new 6,500-foot runway 3-21 was held on April 26, 1991.


The new Cargo Building, Commuter Terminal and Interim Helicopter Facility were dedicated on March 14, 1991.


The DOT held public meetings in 1991 to discuss construction of an inland heliport to decrease helicopter noise complaints.


Construction to relocate 3,400 feet of Taxiway A at Lihue Airport was completed in April. 1992. Taxiway A now runs parallel with Runway 3-21 and meets current FAA dimensional and pavement design standards.


Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai on September 11, 1992 causing major damage throughout the island.  The airport was opened at dawn on September 12 to emergency relief aircraft


The Lihue Airport Master Plan called for extending Runway 17-35 to 8,500 feet to adequately accommodate the landing and takeoff of non-stop wide body aircraft to the Mainland.


A new Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Station was opened at Lihue Airport on March 17, 1995.


Construction began in October 1996 on replacing the General Aviation T-Hangars that were damaged by Hurricane Iniki.  The General Aviation apron and T-hangars were dedicated on April 21, 1998.


Work on an EIS for the Lihue Airport Master Plan was continuing in 1998.


The theme announced for the multi-cultural improvements at Lihue Airport in 1999 is the Garden Isle and includes a lauae leaf mural above the ticket counter, skylights, hula photo murals in the concourses and a kapa border throughout the terminal.


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