$8 million upgrade in line at airport

LIHUE — The Lihue Airport is in line for $8 million in improvements.

A key to the project is enlarging the boarding lounges where passengers wait for their flights.

“We’ll increase the capacity of the hold rooms so more people can actually sit without a problem,” said Ford Fuchigami, deputy director of the state’s Department of Transportation Airports Division. “The hold rooms are pretty packed right now.”

Lobbies, air-conditioned walkways, flooring, ceiling, lights and new store fronts are also included in part of the work expected to begin next year.

Other changes call for removal of landscaping and concrete benches in front of the ticket lobby, and a roofing system will be added.

The airport is due for a bit of a makeover.

“It hasn’t been updated in years,” he said.

Gene Matshushige, project manager with DOT Airports Division, said they are still in the selection process for a contractor, and a survey must be completed. The design should be completed in the next six to eight months. Then, it would be time to advertise the project and get a construction contract.

“That’s if everything goes smooth,” he said.

Once work begins, it’s expected to take about a year to complete.

The changes will make the airport more functional, aesthetically pleasing and comfortable for Kauai’s visitors — around 1.1 million this year — which is critical, because the Lihue Airport is the first and last place guests see here.

“We want to make sure the customers’ experience brings them back to the island,” said Dennis Neves, Kauai Airports district manager with the state Department of Transportation.

Neves said restroom renovations — new fixtures and stalls, have begun, with the south restroom completed, and the remaining expected to be finished by first quarter of 2014.

He also spoke of changes to reduce passenger time to pass through security.

One was made in regards to luggage screening.

“When one bag alarms, everybody has to wait while one bag gets checked,” Neves said.

TSA installed a diversion belt that allows the operator to remove the bag and have it screened while other bags continue through the process.

“It keeps the line going,” he said.

Neves said a precheck program through the government offers passengers an option to pay a small fee so they don’t have to remove items like belts and watches.

“It helps move that process. As that builds, that will help move people through Lihue Airport quicker,” Neves said.

Ideally, Lihue would have longer runways, too.

Its two runways are both 6,500 feet long.

Fuchigami said a 7,000-foot runway would accommodate increased types of aircraft. Shorter runways are more restrictive for carriers.

Honolulu International Airport has two 12,000 foot runways, and others that are 9,000 and 7,000 feet.

“The longer the runway is, for safety reasons, it’s much, much better,” Fuchigami said.

“Plus, it can accommodate a whole different type of aircraft coming into the airport,” he said.

There have been talks of lengthening at least one of Lihue’s runaways, but no firm agreements have been reached.

Farther down the road, scheduled for 2020, is a consolidation of car rental companies into one specific area.

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