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International Flights Resume in Kona

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It's been six years since an international flight touched down at the Kona Airport on Hawai'i Island. But that's changing today.  In 2010, Japan Airlines ended its service to Kona—but today a local carrier is the first to bring back international business.

HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken has more from Kona.

Kona International Airport is once again becoming a truly international airport. Ross Birch of the Island of Hawai'i Visitors Bureau explains "Wednesday is the inaugural flight of the Haneda to Kona Hawaiian Airlines flight.  Every seat is filled at 294 passengers"

After Japan Airlines stopped flights to the island in 2010, U. S. Customs and Border Protection decommissioned the existing Kona Airport Customs facility.  Getting the facility up to speed was critical to providing a second international gateway for the state.  Ross says "It's still the Quonset tent, still the same facility on the outside, but on the inside it's been brought up to county codes, the fire system, air conditioning system has been added, basically a refresh on the interior and all brand new high tech customs kiosks.  We're going to be state of the art, at or above even where Honolulu is."

Birch says the State has committed $34 million dollars to provide a new permanent facility within 3 to 5 years.  The highest ever visitor total to Hawai'i Island was in 2007, at 1.6 million visitors.  Birch says with three new flights a week from Japan, potentially 900 visitors a week, visitor numbers should be above that by the end of next year. 

Birch is confident that two to three airlines will offer additional international service within the next year.  And as far as the economic impact to the Big Island from just this one flight alone?  Ross says "it's going to be anywhere from $50 to $60 million dollars, on a per year basis."

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