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New Kona international arrivals facility welcomes back Japanese visitors

Andrea Brizzi For Nan Inc & KYA Design Group
Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation

A Japan Airlines flight touched down at Kona International Airport on Tuesday for the first time since the pandemic began.

Visitors were greeted after exiting the brand new Federal Inspection Services building, Hawaiʻi's second international entry point with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Passengers on Japan Airlines flight 177 arrive at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.
Erin Khan/Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
Passengers on Japan Airlines flight 177 arrive at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

"Not only does it allow direct flights to Kona from foreign destinations, but it serves as a second port of entry should an unforeseen circumstance occur in Honolulu," said Ross Higashi of the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation Airports Division. "We're excited to welcome back Japan Airlines as the first international carrier to utilize the new $60 million Kona FIS."

JAL will resume operating three flights a week between Tokyo's Narita International Airport and Hawaiʻi Island.

Before the pandemic, as many as 2,500 international visitors arrived in Kona per week on Hawaiian Airlines and Japan Airlines flights, the DOT said previously.

CBP allowed international flights to Kona to resume in 2016 on the condition that the state would build the 32,700-square-foot inspection facility to replace a prior temporary structure. Before 2016, the last regularly scheduled international flight to Kona was in 2010.

KYA Design Group’s Carol Torigoe said the facility has received the highest energy efficiency certification, LEED Gold.

Andrea Brizzi For Nan Inc & KYA Design Group

"Airport facilities are quite different and so there aren't very many facilities that are able to earn a gold," Torigoe said. "It will be air conditioned, which will be part of the whole modernization and the new look for Kona. It's a divergence from the hut, but it complements it in material — but we used more modernized materials."

"We did do the design of the original one as well. And it certainly stands for Kona and it has a place in everyone's hearts. We just need some of these facilities that in case of emergency or bad weather, they have a room that they can house people and protect travelers," Torigoe told HPR.

Higashi said the state continues to modernize more areas of Honolulu, Kona and Kahului airports.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 2, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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