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Airport History

Early Maui Aviation

An emergency landing strip was built on Maui in 1919.


Charles Fern carried the first pay passenger interisland from Kapiolani Park to a polo field in Makawao in 1920. However, between Molokai and Maui, Fern’s gas gauge malfunctioned, indicating an empty tank and forced him to land in a pasture near the Cooke Ranch office on Molokai. After refueling, he headed for Maui. Unable to locate the polo field, he landed instead at the fair grounds in Kahului.


In 1923 aviator Charles Stoffer in "Charley’s Crate" delivered the Honolulu Sunday newspaper to Molokai then Maui, landing at Camp One near Spreckelsville.

Maalaea Airport 

Maui's airport story began in 1927 when the Territorial Legislature appropriated $15,000 for acquisition of land for an airport site on Maui.  The site chosen was at Maalaea and property was purchased from Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company.


On November 11, 1929, the first scheduled air service from Honolulu to Maui was inaugurated.  Planes used were eight-passenger Sikorsky S-38 Amphibians.


Runways at Maalaea were set-up and extended in 1930 using prison labor.


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


Maalaea Airport was a level dirt field near the sea and was unusable in wet weather.  In 1935 the Inter-Island Airways began adding 16-passenger Sikorsky S-43s to its fleet and although they operated from Maalaea, it was realized that the field was too small and too close to the mountains to meet desired safety criteria.


Puunene Airport

In September 1936, the WPA conducted wind studies on a new site which was later to become known as Puunene Airport.  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.


Construction did not start on the new Puunene Airport until June 1, 1938 and as a result, Maui was left without adequate or satisfactory air service until this project was completed.


During the time between June 30, 1939 and December 7, 1941, the field was gradually enlarged and improved--some areas being paved.  A small Naval Air Facility was established at the airport by the U.S. Navy.  Immediately after December 7th, 1941, the military took control of all air fields in the Territory and began the expansion of Maui Airport at Puunene.


The demands of the war were such that the Navy found it necessary to establish another large air station on Maui.  Accordingly, a site was chosen near the town of Kahului and, after purchase of some 1,341 acres of cane land, construction was started in 1942 on what was to become Naval Air Station Kahului.  This facility later became known as Kahului Airport under the jurisdiction of the Hawaii Aeronautics Commission.


October 1, 1946 marked the entrance of the Territory into full-scale commercial operation of airports.  Puunene Airport was taken over under a permissive agreement with the Navy.  In December 1948 the airport reverted to the Territory under Quitclaim deed from the U.S. Government.  A program to dispose of surplus buildings and materials was launched.


No major improvements were made to Puunene Airport since it was planned to move commercial operations to the former Naval Air Station at Kahului, which was considered much more desirable for commercial airline operation.


The Federal Government reports spending more than $11 million on Puunene Airport from 1938 through World War II, while the Territory of Hawaii contributed $44,079 between 1938 and December 7, 1941.  Many of the facilities constructed, although necessary to the war effort, had no utility in commercial airport operations.


Kahului Airport

As early as 1947, the HAC planned to move all operations from Puunene to Kahului. In December 1947, the Navy turned over jurisdiction of Kahului Airport to the Territory and the HAC assumed control on a custodial basis pending formal transfer.


The history of Kahului Airport is one of extensive negotiations.  Therefore, it was not until May 25, 1951 that the Commission took definite action to transfer all airline operations from Puunene to Kahului.  Accordingly, a program of modernization was immediately undertaken.


Much work was necessary before Kahului could be made usable for commercial airline operations.  A joint passenger terminal was constructed out of surplus materials, an old shop building remodeled into an air freight building with refrigeration facilities, a new passenger protection fence, rotating beacon, temporary runway lights installed, necessary obstruction lights erected, the lighted tetrahedron repaired, and paving repairs made as necessary.


Paving of a new convenient entrance to the automobile parking lot was completed. Three large two-story quonset huts were remodeled into small plane shelters, one of which was turned over to the Hawaii National Guard for use of two liaison-type L-19 aircraft.


Full commercial airline operations from Kahului began in June 1952, virtually abandoning Puunene which, although not used, was kept on a standby status until title to Kahului became vested in the Territory and full CAA communications and weather facility were moved from Puunene.


A bill was introduced in Congress authorizing the Navy to grant title to Kahului to the Territory.  The bill was finally passed in June 1952, but the actual transfer did not take place for several more years.


In 1955, the airport consisted of 1,341 acres, and had three paved runways: 2-20 was 200-feet wide and 7,000-feet long, 5-23 was 300-feet wide and 5,000-feet long, and 17-35 was 200-feet wide and 5,000-feet long.


The airport was served by Hawaiian Airlines, Ltd. and Trans-Pacific Airlines, Ltd. on a scheduled basis and by Andrew flying Service, the Hawaii National Guard and U.S. military on a non-scheduled basis.


Facilities included a joint passenger terminal building, restaurant, freight terminal building, ground transportation services, paved taxiways and apron, wind socks, one lighted runway (5-23), a lighted tetrahedron, radio beacon, ceiling light projector, rotating beacon, small plane shelters, obstruction lights, field maintenance, crash and fire protection, and ramp lighting.


A new tower and control building were completed on October 2, 1958 at Kahului.


Groundbreaking for a new terminal building at Kahului Airport was held on February 1, 1965.  Dedication ceremonies were held for the new terminal on June 25, 1966.


New security fencing was installed in 1974 to meet FAA requirements.


Charter flights from the Mainland began arriving in Kahului in 1975.


Scheduled direct flights began arriving at Kahului in 1983.


Interim modifications were made to the Kahului terminal facility in 1984. Phase I involved covering the open court area in the terminal.


A new roadway and parking system for ground transportation was completed in December 1984. Ground transportation facilities were relocated to a separate area of the airport.


Three new baggage claim devices were constructed and opened in January 1985.


Modifications to the existing baggage claim areas, new ground transportation facilities for U-Drive operators, new restrooms, and relocation of concession and gift shop facilities were completed in April 1985.


Design of a new Kahului Airport Terminal Complex began in 1985. Consisting of three phases, the $36.5 million complex took five years to complete. Work included additions and alterations to existing structures, roads, parking areas, aprons, a new terminal, taxiways, runways, landscaping, cargo terminal and relocation of the FAA tower. Support facilities included a new helipad and cargo terminal.


The new $2.3 million Commuter Terminal was dedicated on January 15, 1987.  The facility accommodates eight commuter operators and aircraft up to twin otters.



East Ramp Improvements which subdivided the area for scenic flight aviation and helicopter use was completed in 1987.  Site preparation work for a future postal service building was completed.  Additional parking spaces were completed.


Construction of aircraft hard stands was completed in 1988.


A ground breaking ceremony was held on July 14, 1988 for the new Terminal Building at Kahului Airport.


Dedication of the new FAA tower was held on December 16, 1988.


Work to furnish and install eight aircraft loading bridges for the new terminal building began in February 1989.


The new $42.6 million Kahului Airport Terminal Building was dedicated on October 17, 1990 and operations began on October 18.  The new terminal has 267,000 square feet and includes an 82,000 sq. ft. ticketing terminal, group tour bus terminal and group baggage drop off, and a 78,000 sq. ft. two-story Central Building which houses the airport administration offices, hold rooms, jetways, restaurants and concessions.


A new 500,000 square foot runway safety area, with a 2,000 square foot blast pad at the south end of Runway 2-20 was completed in April 1991.


Also in 1991, the old terminal was converted into a baggage claim facility, with five carousels, a flight information display board and airline baggage service counters.  Roadway improvements around the terminal were also constructed.


Construction of four additional hold rooms and 12 aircraft gates was completed in February 1993.


Kahului Airport’s Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Facility was relocated on May 27, 1994.


The state undertook a Federal-State EIS in 1994 to lengthen the runway at Kahului. All construction was delayed until the EIS was completed. 


Work began on January 18, 1995 to relocate the Very High Frequency Omnidirection Radio Range/Tactical Air Navigation System (VORTAC).


A Record of Decision was made on August 26, 1998 on the Kahului Environmental Impact Statement by the FAA giving unconditional approval to all projects except for the long-range projects. Mitigation measures included an Alien Species Action Plan.


The theme developed for Multi-Cultural improvements at the airport is Legends of Maui: the Demigod.



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