New inspection facility for international arrivals in Kona boosts transportation resiliency
State Department of Transportation officials Tuesday announced the completion of a $58.7 million facility to process international flights and their passengers at Kona International Airport — an important second international entry point to the state behind Honolulu.
When the terminal starts accepting flights, pent-up demand created by international pandemic restrictions could result in a surge of arrivals, Airports Division Deputy Director Ross Higashi said.
"We do see pent-up demand from the international travelers returning to Hawaiʻi. So this facility is definitely needed," he said. "More importantly, if something happens in Honolulu where we have to shut that facility down, Kona Federal Inspection Station will serve as the alternative or second port of entry, I should say."
Higashi said the new facility is a big step in ensuring Hawaiʻi has a resilient airport system. Kona is one of only two international entry points into Hawaiʻi — the other is Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Now that construction is complete, the next step is to have CBP mobilized with their screening equipment, Higashi said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection allowed international flights to Kona to resume in 2016 on the condition that the state would build this permanent inspection facility to replace a prior temporary structure.
Before 2016, the last regularly scheduled international flight to Kona was in 2010.
"The (2008 to 2010) economic meltdown created some issues for international traffic. Japan Airlines basically said that we're no longer flying into Kona anymore because we can't economically afford it. That being said, traffic started to return and then they asked if we could open up that Federal Inspection Station," Higashi said.
"So we flew to Washington D.C. to meet with officials there, asking them if they can reopen the temporary facility that we had built once before. They allowed us with the promise that we would build a permanent facility within five years," Higashi told HPR's The Conversation.
Before the pandemic, as many as 2,500 international visitors arrived in Kona per week on Hawaiian Airlines and Japan Airlines flights from Japan, the transportation department said.
The 32,700-square-foot facility was completed two months before the agreed deadline, the department said.
This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 19, 2021.