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Adding more government doesn’t fly

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    Passengers check in at Honolulu International Airport.

Oahu residents are not particularly pleased with the condition of Honolulu International Airport, but a majority of them oppose the plan to create a new airport authority to try to better manage and maintain the state’s airport system.

A new poll by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser found 55 percent of Oahu voters oppose the airport authority plan, while only about a third support it.

Ford Fuchigami, director of the state Department of Transportation, has been warning lawmakers this year about the poor condition of the 15 state airports, including Honolulu’s, and supports a plan to create a new airport authority or “airport corporation” within his department to upgrade and better manage the facilities.

Fuchigami cites the “progressive deterioration of the quality of terminal facilities, which no longer reflect the best of our state, and are increasingly well below the standard of other airports serving leading global destinations.”

After years of airport construction on new parking, car rental and other facilities at Honolulu International Airport, some Oahu residents clearly share Fuchigami’s concerns.

Kaimuki retiree Roger Flatt passes through the airport several times a year and described it as “very dated and worn,” adding, “It’s worn out, and obviously they’re doing a major remodel, but we’ve been on the island for 12 years, and they’ve been talking about it the whole time, and it just seems like nothing is getting done.”

Flatt, 69, said he has visited the impressive Heathrow Airport in London and Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and that Honolulu’s just can’t compare.

“International airports put it to shame,” he said.

“For all the visitors we get worldwide, that’s their first impression, and it should be a good one,” said Flatt. “It’s not, I don’t think, right now.”

The Hawaii Poll asked likely voters to rate the condition of Honolulu International Airport on a scale of 1 to 5, with a score of 5 meaning “very good” and a rating of 1 meaning “very poor.”

Of those polled, 8 percent rated the airport as very poor while 7 percent rated it as very good. Almost half of all those polled were essentially neutral on the question and gave the airport a middling rating of 3.

Steven Ryan, 33, said he has traveled to the mainland several times in the past few years, and said the airport is “falling apart.”

“(President Donald) Trump was right: Our airports are like Third World-nation standards,” said Ryan, who is a West Oahu resident and a self-employed handyman. He particularly dislikes driving under the airport viaduct because the concrete supports appear to be cracked and structurally unsafe.

However, Ryan said an airport authority is a bad idea “in the current economic environment.”

“It’s just more bureaucracy and another way for them to pull money out of the system and not get anything done,” Ryan said. “That’s what I see them doing again. It’s another boondoggle; it’s the rail system all over again. They’re going to get halfway through building it and say, ‘Oh, sorry, we ran out of money. We need more money.’”

Flatt, however, said it is time to try a new approach with managing the airports.

“The people that are in charge now, it’s just not getting the job done,” Flatt said. “If anything would be better, I’m all for it. But again, you’re just going to have another political baseball, and it all comes down to politics, especially in Hawaii because everybody knows everybody.”

David Bigger, 59, said he is skeptical of the idea of an airport authority because it smacks of an expansion of government.

“I just think we’ve got too many people working for the government,” said Bigger, who lives in Manoa. “For me the feeling is less government, and an airport authority just sounds like, oh, boy, here’s another budget item for the state government. Here’s another committee.”

Fuchigami said the state needs to centralize decision- making for the airports system under an authority or airport corporation and needs to free the system from the complex requirements imposed by the state, including the state procurement code.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state’s largest public-worker union, opposes that plan.

HGEA says the state tried a similar approach when it created the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. to grant limited autonomy to the state’s network of public hospitals. Lawmakers have been generally unhappy with the result, and complain about inefficiencies in the public hospital system and the ongoing need for tens of millions of dollars in state subsidies to support the hospital corporation each year.

The Hawaii Poll was conducted April 3-8 by Ward Research Inc. on cellphones and landlines, and included 401 likely primary voters on Oahu. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Public poll on Honolulu International Airport by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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