New concerns over future of Dillingham Airfield after second deadly crash

Local News

Earlier this month the Hawaii Department of Transportation told companies at Dillingham Airfield to vacate by June 30.

The land is owned by the Army but has been operated by the state since the 1970s. The lease was supposed to go until 2024.

Saturday’s crash is the second deadly crash at the airfield in less than a year and now there are more concerns over the future of Dillingham Airfield.  

Drivers on Farrington Highway can still see the memorial for the 11 victims of the deadly plane crash back in June 2019. The crash was the deadliest civilian crash in the U.S. since 2011.

On Saturday, two more people died within the same airfield.

After the crash, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a statement: “Our hearts are with those affected by today’s tragic accident. It has become clear that Dillingham Airfield cannot continue to operate safely. Our obligation is to keep people safe, and the only way to do that is to keep the airfield closed. I urge the FAA and HDOT to shut down the airfield until they can guarantee the safety of operations at Dillingham.”

But many North Shore community members said the opposite.

“I think what happened today is a terrible tragedy and should not be linked to shutting down,” said North Shore Community board chair Kathleen Pahunui. “They’re separate issues and we need to treat it as such.”

After hearing Sen. Schatz’s statement state Sen. Gil Riviere said:

“I am very disappointed with the statement made by Senator Brian Schatz calling for the closure of Dillingham Airfield. It is irresponsible to make such a definitive statement about the accident and the airfield before any facts of the matter have been established.

“The two pilots who lost their lives today were highly qualified aviators, devoted to the love of flight. They were very well-liked and respected, trained countless new pilots, and eagerly shared their passion for aviation. These men absolutely loved to fly at Dillingham Airfield, so a call to shut down the airport within hours of their loss is truly insensitive and misinformed. God bless these good men, their loved ones and everyone who had the pleasure to know them.”

The airfield employs about 100 people on the North Shore and many said they’ll continue to fight to keep it open.

“This has been a very special part of my life and many others for decades now,” said Rick Deleon, a pilot who knew both victims.

“It’s a unique setting, absolutely world-class for what we do here between glider flying and skydiving. It’s literally one of the only places on the islands we can do this especially the gliding,” he said.

Deleon said both pilots would also want to keep Dillingham Airfield open.

“They would say hell no keep [the fight] going, take care. In fact, I would argue they would say it’s part of our legacy, keep it going,” he said.

Sen. Riviere said the airfield is an instrumental part of the North Shore community.

“This is the perfect location for the activities that occur here, it is an accident and it is a tragedy. We have car accidents, we have plane accidents, we have train accidents they occur, but you cannot make a decision such as shutting down this airfield based on this one tragedy,” he said.

He said the airports division should also take responsibility.

“It’s their responsibility to provide a safe aviation community, they need to provide safe access for the maintenance, they need to provide access for general aviation use so I think a lot of questions need to be asked of the airport’s division,” Sen. Riviere said.

Meanwhile, Congressman Ed Case is questioning small aircraft operations in general.

In a statement he said:  

“It’s unbelievable that our island community has suffered now a fourth fatal tragedy involving a tour helicopter/small aircraft in less than a year,” said Case. “I again join with the rest of Hawai‘i in extending my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who were lost in this morning’s incident. “While it will probably be more than a year until officials are able to determine the cause of this crash, the Federal Aviation Administration cannot treat this as an isolated incident as it did with the previous three, but must immediately ask itself the hard question it has thus far avoided of whether existing tour helicopter/small aircraft regulations are simply inadequate to protect the safety of those in the aircraft and of the over one million of us that they fly over every day.

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