72 Hours with Hawaiian Airlines: The Honolulu International Airport Modernization Plan

72 Hours With, Hawaiian

Just about every person I met with during my visit to Hawaiian brought up the Honolulu International Airport modernization plan. This is a project that has been in the works for years, but it’s clear that Hawaiian sees this as absolutely crucial to its future growth. To understand why the airport needs modernizing, we need to look at how it functions now.

[Disclosure: Hawaiian paid for my flights and hotel]

Here’s how things stand today:

Honolulu Airport Today

The main terminal is the overseas terminal. It was opened in 1962 but has had concourses bolted on since then. The Ewa Concourse was built first, followed by the Diamond Head Concourse and finally the Central Concourse in 1980. As you can see, both the Diamond Head and Ewa Concourses have a distinctive and annoying curve which means airplanes can only park on one side. That doesn’t seem very efficient, and earlier plans were going to involve changing that, but those appear to have been shelved.

The interisland terminal was built for, well, interisland flights. Hawaiian and Aloha were the main tenants for years, so that obviously left a lot of room for Hawaiian to grow once Aloha shut down. The Commuter Terminal has had a variety of operators come and go over the years. Today it serves Island Air and Mokulele. This seems like it works, right, so what’s the issue?

When Hawaiian started its growth spurt, it did what it could to create a combined operation. That meant locating its check in area in the Interisland Terminal where there’s both a traditional counter (below) and a new-style one with kiosks in the center and a bag belt at the back wall (reminiscent of Air New Zealand’s set up in Auckland).

Hawaiian Airlines Honolulu Ticket Counter

From there, Hawaiian customers can go through security. Interisland passengers don’t have a far walk at all, but passengers traveling on longer hauls can have quite the trek. They try to keep overseas Hawaiian departures on the Ewa Concourse (with a few actually leaving from the Interisland Terminal), but that doesn’t always work out. People have to walk outside for what can be a pretty long distance. When I flew in, for instance, I arrived at gate 33, the next to last one on the Ewa Concourse. I had to walk for more than 10 minutes (lugging my carry-on in the humid air) before getting back toward civilization. There is a bus there, but it’s really not the most pleasant experience, if it shows up when you need it.

But that’s just the issue on the landside of the terminal. On the airside of the operation, there is a huge bottleneck where airplanes can’t taxi side-by-side on their own between the Interisland Terminal and the runways. It slows things down a lot. So, here’s what’s coming:

Honolulu Airport Modernization

First, you can see that the Commuter Terminal is knocked down and relocated to the end of the Diamond Head Concourse. For the tenants of that terminal, I would assume it would be a slightly nicer experience, but it really doesn’t matter all that much. It’s just a different location.

The reason for making that move is to knock down the current Commuter Terminal and build the new Mauka Concourse. When it opens in 2017, the Mauka Concourse will have holdrooms for 6 widebodies or 11 narrowbodies. This will allow Hawaiian to shift more of its widebodies to use those gates, keeping them closer to check-in and the interisland operation. I’m sure Hawaiian will still need to use gates on the Ewa Concourse from time to time but this will reduce that demand significantly. And hopefully they can use only the closest Ewa gates if they need them.

But the Mauka Concourse alone doesn’t solve all the problems. They still can’t easily taxi back and forth to the runways from there. The big hindrance is the old joint hangar that has Hawaiian on one side and Aloha Air Cargo on the other. It’s a small hangar that can barely fit part of a 717, so demolishing it would be no great loss. For that reason, it’s toast.

The new Hawaiian hangar is being built right now, and it’s going to be much bigger, having widebody capacity. Aloha Air Cargo will get a new hangar as well. They’ll also move some employee parking around. The upshot is that this opens up a bunch more room so they can widen the taxiways. In 2017, when the Mauka Concourse opens and this whole project is done, airplanes will be able to taxi in and out simultaneously under their own power. This will give Hawaiian a consolidated home for its operation. At the same time, it will open up more gates for other carriers to use as well.

Hawaiian is expecting huge growth in connecting traffic from not only its own growing international operation but also from that of its partners. So some kind of facility improvement is sorely needed. This seems like it should do the trick, at least for the next few years. The way everyone at Hawaiian speaks about it, it sounds like it can’t be completed soon enough.

Other posts from my 72 hours with Hawaiian Airlines:
72 Hours with Hawaiian: Flying to Honolulu in Extra Comfort
72 Hours with Hawaiian: A Unique Headquarters Setup, Flying Hawaiian’s Very First Airplane
72 Hours With Hawaiian: Across the Aisle From President and CEO Mark Dunkerley
72 Hours with Hawaiian: Meeting with Execs, Flying ‘Ohana by Hawaiian
72 Hours With Hawaiian Airlines: Talking to Flight Ops, the Ride Home in First Class

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

22 comments on “72 Hours with Hawaiian Airlines: The Honolulu International Airport Modernization Plan

  1. Curious – how many gates will be added vs how many exist today. Not sure if the graphics make it clear.

    1. SEAN – To the best of my knowledge, there are 29 gates in the overseas terminal, 5 gates on a little stub between the overseas and interisland terminals (49-53), and 8 gates in the interisland terminal. Not sure how many are in the Commuter Terminal but they’re just doors out on to the tarmac anyway.

      So that’s 42 total gates and they are adding 6 more. Well, 6 more for widebodies or it could be 11 for narrowbodies. Those are all on the Mauka Concourse. The Commuter Terminal will just move from one side to the other.

  2. Except for widening the taxi way, nothing else seems that big of an improvement. Maybe they should move the Commuter Terminal somewhere else and bus people to it, that could help with more room.

  3. What was not commented on; are the services/stores in the terminals themseleves. HNL has one of the least appealing mix of services of any major aiport in the US. One can only hope that this is addressed as the new terminal(s) are occupied.

    1. michael@BDL – And on that, I have no idea. I didn’t get any specifics on if there are any changes in shopping/dining. That shouldn’t be part of any expansion plan though – it should be a contract issue with the service provider. Not sure when that’s up for renewal.

    1. Darkwater – There are some buildings with parking on them as well over there. I’m sure it could be relocated at a cost, but the design of the concourse makes it tough to put gates in there. The inside of the curve isn’t very efficient. So to really get much value out of it, they’d be better off knocking it down and rebuilding it.

    2. The area on the non-plane side of the Ewa Concourse is all airport staff parking (lots Q, etc.). The original HNL modernisation plan that the republican governor had first floated included straightening the Ewa Concourse and extending it far out to where current hard stands are, then reclaiming most of the area that includes lot Q to create a much larger concourse overall.

      That’s since been scrapped as there was a political scandal back then of an airports team doing bid rigging — several went to jail for it. http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2007/Oct/05/ln/hawaii710050376.html

      The new HNL modernisation plan can also be found (albeit sparse in details) at: http://www.hawaiiairportsmodernization.com/

      1. If you’re talking about Lot Q, that’s on the opposite side of the Diamond Head concourse, close to United’s gates.

        I believe that building across Gate 26 is the current HA Catering facility – which will soon relocate to the old Gate Gourmet kitchen across Animal Quarantine.

    3. Sorry, I didn’t mean to characterise the entire plan floated by the republican governor to have been scrapped *because of* the scandal. As with all regime changes, there was a slightly different focus on different areas of existing projects (airports being one of many), and the ambitious plan originally floated by then governor Lingle was revised by the governor Abercrombie who had come into office after being elected in 2010.

  4. Ya, I was subjected to that walk back to “civilization”.
    Arrived from an HA AKL flight to catch an AA LAX. It wasn’t nice with all the humidity and I’m from MIA.

    Sorta reminded me of PUJ.


  5. Glad to see HA looking for expansion at its home airport. All the same, I’d be sad if renovation work altered HNL too much – it’s one of the most unique airports in the world. Yes, the architecture is VERY dated – you can watch old episodes of “Hawaii Five-O” or “The Brady Bunch” from the 1970s and the airport is almost identical to how it looks today – and it doesn’t have the Hudson News/Chili’s Too/CNN Airport Network garbage that’s homogenized every other airport in the US. But there’s something about those open-air concourses, the tropical breezes, and the smell of jet fuel – I grew up going to Hawaii every summer, and there was nothing like stepping off a DC10 or an L1011 into the 1970s concrete masterpiece that is HNL! I hope the expansion work keeps some of the spirit of the existing buildings intact.

  6. I grew up in HNL and it gladdens me to hear that modernization is in the works, again. The comment about the open air feel and non-traditional layout from current modern airports is what make HNL unique. I enjoy deplaning to the fragrance of plumeria, ginger and vanda orchids and that “Hawaii” smell, even the gentle rain if you should be so lucky…and yes jet fuel. It’s all the charm of Hawaii and what makes this airport a pleasure to go home to, humidity and tradewinds too. I don’t miss the TV screens and “noise” of the mainland airports when in Hawaii!

  7. Oh man…the commuter concorse being tacked on to the end of the Diamond Head concorse is going to translate into…one…long…walk…back to civilzation…and your bags. Just getting out to Diamond Head from the check in counter takes as long as it takes to walk T3 at SFO. And HNL doesn’t have passenger movers.

  8. There’s no plan to eliminate the forced use of the horrible wiki wiki bus when your international flight arrives at the Diamond Head concourse, right?

    The practices at HNL for the forced wiki wiki ride border on torture as the attendants make sure to pack the wiki wiki bus as tight as a subway in Tokyo during rush hour. Why? There’s really no reason it has to be so uncomfortable but it’s standard practice and done on a daily basis at HNL airport and there’s no way to just walk since there’s no protected corridor between the DIamond Head concourse and immigration.

    And it doesn’t matter what class of service you flew or anything else, you are going to be treated like fenced in packed in cattle upon your arrival at the fabulous HNL airport. And this is with the new and improved Wiki Wiki buses they now have.

    The Airports Division of the DOT is a faceless agency within the Hawaii DOT that answers to nobody.

    On another note, why do you take these free trips that the airlines offer you? IMO, it diminishes your ability to report the unbiased facts. And even if you think they aren’t biased, we really have no way of knowing that since you accepted the free trip. I’m sure you will have plenty of supporters and justification for continuing to take the free trips, but I’m also sure you understand exactly what I’m saying here. You’re a talented writer and I hate to see the bias issue continue to taint your work.

    1. David – I don’t have the answer to that, but from what I know, they aren’t planning on making changes to the overseas terminal, so that would mean keeping the transportation as is. If anyone knows different, please chime in.

      On your other point, the reason I accept these trips is to provide great content for the blog. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it. And if you think it creates bias, then I’d suggest going through my work to see if you think that’s really true. My last “72 hours” trip was with United, and I don’t think anyone would argue that it has somehow swayed my coverage to be more positive about the airline since that time. (If it has, then that’s a scary thought for United.)

      I have a pretty strict ethics policy and have put it all up at crankyflier.com/ethics for anyone to review. I’d be happy to buy my own tickets and not accept anything if I had the budget to do that. But you and others aren’t paying for this content, and I’m pretty sure there are very few of you that would. So I will continue to accept trips only for work purposes when I think the result will be great content for the blog. I’ll also continue to refuse everything else.

    2. At this point, as long as the Diamond Head concourse remains the way it is, it will not eliminate the forced wiki wiki bus ride to immigration for international flights.

      The super-duper long range plan is to re-develop the Diamond Head concourse area to that of a T-shape, and straighten up the Ewa concourse See: http://www.hawaiibusiness.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=7954&url=/Hawaii-Business/July-2010/Transforming-Hawaii-rsquos-Airports/&mode=print

      It “appears” that the new concourse design for both areas will incorporate an enclosed 3rd level sterile area with escalators so arriving international passengers can walk to immigration and customs. See pictures 1 and 4 at http://www.hok.com/design/type/aviation-transportation/honolulu-international-airport-terminal-modernization-program-honolulu-hawaii-usa/

      The ideal solution in the current layout to avoid forced bussing would be for the state to do a gate swap: all domestic flights, including HA, must use gates 6-22, and international flights gates 23-34, for which there is a secure route to immigration and customs.

      In the long term, once the new Diamond Head Concourse is built, the state needs to consider putting a second international arrivals area for passengers deplaning from those gates, this way they can eliminate the wiki-wiki buses completely and save on the fuel expense.

      Other changes in the works:
      Website: http://hidot.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/2014_05_07_HDOT_Society_Of_American_Military_Engineers.pdf

      – New signage for roadways and terminals (badly needed)
      – Terminals to be numbered 1 (Interisland), 2 (Overseas), and 3 (Commuter)
      – Change gate numbers to alpha numeric: Gate A1, A2, etc.)
      – Change baggage claim from alpha-numeric to simply numeric.

      1. Forgot to mention… that the State of Hawaii takes forever on these projects. The modernization concept has been in the works since 2006 and still no new Mauka Concourse…year after year…delay after delay.

        We only need to look at Beijing and Haneda… those governments whipped out pretty nice international terminals in very short order…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier