Niihau could host Osprey, other Marine training zones

VMM-161 flies the Hawaiian skies_181155

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM – An MV-22 Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 fl ies over Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam after passing over the USS Anchorage, April 2, 2014. Stationed in Camp Pendleton, Calif., VMM-161 was assigned to the USS Anchorage during its trip to Hawaii and conducted several training operations to sustain […]

The island of Niihau may become a training area for Ospreys and other U.S. Marine Corps aircraft.

Always Investigating reviewed the plan in a state environmental-notice log (click here and scroll to page 11 or view a screenshot below), but found little community and government awareness of the proposal, despite public comment due Monday, Oct. 23.

The Marine Corps’ environmental assessment notice says expansion to Niihau, and reactivation of sites on Kauai, “is needed to address a lack of TERF and CAL training areas for USMC tilt-rotor and helicopter aircraft crews in Hawaii.” TERF refers to terrain-following or low-level flight training, and CAL refers to confined-area landing, or landing zones.

The Osprey and CH-53 have both had deadly crash incidents in Hawaii during Oahu training.

The proposal would establish four Niihau landing zones, for Osprey aircraft as well as for helicopters such as the heavy-lift CH-53 Sea Stallion and H-1 Huey. Existing flyover routes of Kauai and Niihau would be used, and two dormant landing zones on Kauai would be reactivated.

Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho told Always Investigating, “We are unaware of the details of the Osprey training and use of landing zones.” He said he would be reaching out to the Robinson family, which owns the private island.

“We look forward to having a direct dialogue with our military partners and the Robinson family, on behalf of the people of Niihau, to learn more about these plans and any potential impacts it may have on our community,” Carvalho said.

Keith Robinson, on behalf of Niihau Ranch, told Always Investigating, “The Robinson family and the residents of Niihau have a long history of supporting the Department of Defense. This instance represents a continuation of that support.”

Robinson explained the history of their cooperation with the military, saying, “The Terrain Flight (TERF) route which was established years ago on Niihau was extensively used by USMC helicopters for many years to train crews in low level flight and navigation in that environment. The training conducted over Niihau removed the marine helicopters from the risk of crowded airspace in the hills behind PMRF (Pacific Missile Range Facility), where tour helicopters often transit.”

As for the Marines’ plans to expand training and add Niihau landing zones, Robinson said, “This effort is merely a continuation of that type of support. Its terms will receive a normal review by our family before we give our approval to furnish that support. Therefore we expect to participate in a meeting very soon with the USMC about their exact requirements for the TERF and Confined Area Landing (CAL) Area, including detailed descriptions of their intended operations.”

“This type of activity is very routine and normal,” Robinson said. “It does not cause any environmental damage.”

The comment period ends Monday. Comments can be submitted via email to, subject “Environmental Assessment (EA) for U.S. Marine Corps Aviation Training on Kauai and Niihau, Hawaii.”

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