Airport authority measure advances

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The late state Sen. Gil Kahele’s bill to establish a statewide airport governing body cleared the state Senate Ways and Means Committee on Monday and is on its way to a vote by the full Senate.

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The late state Sen. Gil Kahele’s bill to establish a statewide airport governing body cleared the state Senate Ways and Means Committee on Monday and is on its way to a vote by the full Senate.

An amended Senate Bill 3072, one of three measures the Hilo Democrat signed before he died in January, would establish a five-member airport authority to oversee all of the state’s 15 airports, currently headed by the Department of Transportation.

Proponents say doing so would modernize decades-old airports more quickly. They say a board also could more easily access public-private partnerships, particularly for capital improvement projects.

“This is a big deal,” said state Sen. Kai Kahele, the son of Gil Kahele who was appointed to fill his father’s vacant seat. “The creation of an airport authority is a really big, bold idea. It’s something that I think our state needs and something my dad thought (as well).”

“My dad had the opportunity to go and travel to some of the international world-class airports and see what one looked like,” Kahele continued. “He strongly believed Hawaii and Honolulu (International Airport) needed to follow that trend, and the best way to do that was to have an airport authority (manage) them efficiently and effectively to make those changes.”

Kahele said the bill has been amended to give Gov. David Ige final say about an implementation date. Previously, the measure was written to establish the authority as of July 1, 2018.

The proposal gleaned support from Hawaiian Airlines, which Kahele said is the state’s largest private employer.

“We believe placing the authority for the oversight, operation, maintenance and long-term planning of Hawaii’s airports under an Airport Authority will achieve the efficiencies needed to offer a world-class experience to travelers to and between our islands,” the Feb. 25 testimony from the airline reads.

The bill is expected to go up for a full Senate vote by Monday (March 8).

Gil Kahele’s two other legacy bills are also moving along.

Senate Bill 3071, a measure that calls for the state to purchase land at Kapua Bay and incorporate it into the South Kona Wilderness Area cleared the Senate last month and passed its first reading in the House. It’s slated to be heard next by the House Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Water and Land.

Gil Kahele’s final measure, Senate Bill 3073, would appropriate funding to establish an aviation college at the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus. The proposal passed its second reading Friday.

Kai Kahele said Monday afternoon he is pleased to see his father’s bills advance. Lawmakers are helping move the bills through quickly, he said.

“If there’s anything my appointment to fill my father’s (open seat) this session did, it was to allow me to shepherd these bills through the Legislature,” he said. “I’ve taken the time to meet with so many Senate members and colleagues to help my dad’s (bills) get through. So, there’s that sense at the Capitol that these were important bills for the late senator, and they meant a lot to him.

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“He’s got me watching them with a careful eye,” he added.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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